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Tuesday, Dec 18, 2018
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Red-light camera repeal looking less likely

TALLAHASSEE — The divide is widening between the House and Senate on the state’s red-light cameras, suggesting a proposed repeal of the program is unlikely this legislative session.

A House panel Monday cleared a transportation bill (HB 7005) with provisions that modify – but don’t eliminate – use of the contentious cameras. It also drops a proposed freeze on installing any new red-light cameras.

Last month, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, stood with Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to decry the cameras and join Brandes’ effort (SB 144) to do away with them.

But Artiles’ bill, as approved by the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations subcommittee, leaves the program intact.

The bill now would require, among other things, that 70 percent of municipalities’ red-light camera revenue go toward traffic safety improvements.

Critics have said cities and counties use the fines from violations caught on camera to boost their general budgets.

“There’s going to be a lot of negotiations, a lot of back and forth,” Artiles said. “I just want to pass something substantive that will help Floridians this year.”

His measure also would require localities to send twice-yearly reports on cameras’ effectiveness by April 1 and Oct. 1.

If a report is not received by the state within 60 days, the municipality has to turn off the cameras until its report is turned in.

The systems were in use in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and in 24 other counties in 2012-13, according to state records. Violators must pay a $158 fine but receive no points on their licenses.

The Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils have voted to get rid of the cameras, though Tampa is likely to reconsider once the council gets a report on where the revenue from fines is going.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, on the other hand, said Monday he might like to see more. Miller wants to hear from the sheriff’s office at the commission’s April 2 meeting on whether cameras at six intersections in unincorporated areas of the county have been effective in preventing crashes and improving public safety.

“I was surprised we only have six,” Miller said. “I think they work. I think they save lives, but I want to hear from the experts on this.”

There have been no fatalities at the six intersections with cameras since they were installed 3 1/2 half years ago and crashes have gone down there, as have citations running red lights, said Sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Brescia.

“That means we’re changing driving behavior and people are a little more aware,” Brescia said. “This is not a revenue issue, this is purely about driver safety.”

Brandes, who chairs the Senate’s Transportation committee, said he’s keeping hope that a statewide repeal still can happen, though signs point to no. His committee will hear his bill on Wednesday.

A similar drive failed last year, but state law was changed instead to allow drivers to contest red-light camera tickets.

“We’re waiting to see what the House does,” Brandes said. “The House is going to do what it’s going to do, the Senate will come up with its own plan, and I think we’ll then negotiate what the policy of this Legislature will be.”

Brandes and Artiles have said if they can’t get a repeal, cities and counties should at least increase their yellow-light times and heighten traffic signals’ visibility to bring down violations.

The Florida League of Cities has lobbied in front of and behind the scenes to blunt efforts of a repeal.

“Protection of public safety is one of the key functions of government,” the league’s website says. “Due to budget constraints and unfunded mandates, local governments have limited law enforcement resources, and photo enforcement helps stretch these limited resources.”

Revenue from red light violations was at nearly $119 million for 2012-13.

Of that, $52 million went to the state treasury, nearly $10 million was deposited into state trust funds and cities and counties kept $56 million.

Staff writer Mike Salinero contributed to this report.

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How to sound off

Senate Bill 144 would prohibit red light cameras on Florida roadways by undoing earlier laws passed to allow for them.

Sponsor is Sen. Jeff Brandes, [email protected] or (850) 487-5022.

To find and contact your own senator or representative, click here. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.

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