Newly Signed Texas Law Derails Red-Light Camera, Tech Plans

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1631 earlier this month, plans for traffic cameras and tech add-ons like license plate readers went out the window in places like Jersey Village.

by Chevall Pryce, Houston Chronicle / June 6, 2019

(TNS) — On June 1, Governor Greg Abbott took to Twitter to sign House Bill 1631.

“I’m about to sign this bill that bans red light cameras in Texas,” he said before signing the piece of paper. “It is now law.”

HB 1631 essentially bans red light cameras from being installed across the state of Texas by local authorities. Within the bill is a grandfather clause granting cities with current contracts to continue utilizing red light cameras until the contract is over, unless the contract includes a clause allowing for early cancellation.

In November 2018 Jersey Village City Council approved a resolution to reinstall red light cameras in the city after they were removed for U.S. 290 construction in 2013. The cameras were originally installed in 2008.

Now that the law has been enacted, Jersey Village Police Chief Eric Foerster said he does not expect the cameras — which would have included license plate recognition technology — to be installed.

Foerster said Jersey Village has an adverse legislation clause in their contract with the camera provider, Verra Mobility, which would cause the city to remove the cameras.

“The verbiage in our contract actually stopped the contract the day (the bill) was signed,” Foerster said. “This legislation passed, ergo we’re just not going to go back up with them.”

The 11 cameras were on intersections along Hwy. 290 including Senate Ave. and Jones Road.

In 2016 residents of Jersey Village voted against a charter attempting to remove the cameras for good, he said. According to a study done by the Jersey Village Police Department, crashes caused by red light violations increased from 17 in 2013 — the year the cameras were removed — to 38 in 2015.

“I’m not going to say it was earth-shattering, but it definitely made a difference,” Foerster said. “We supported it, but it happens. We lost them and it’s easier now since they’re already down to not put them up.”

Mayor Andrew Mitcham said the absence of red-light cameras will not directly affect funding for the city, which did not receive revenue from red light camera fines. However, revenue generated from red light camera violations that went to regional trauma centers and the police department will no longer exist.

“We also have a very unique fund called the crime control prevention district fund that directly benefits our police department’s budget,” Mitcham said. “We’ve successfully increased those revenues to safely pay for the officers and equipment and those sorts of things that have come from the red-light camera fund in the past.”

Although Mitcham said the city should not be impacted financially, he finds the law itself disappointing. Mitcham said there was a large push to reinstall the cameras.

“My personal opinion is no, they should not go back up because of the law,” Mitcham said. “It’s just another example of the state eroding local control over the safety of our citizens and it’s very unfortunate.”

Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said the precinct does not have red-light cameras in unincorporated northwest Harris County, which should be minimally affected by the new law. Humble, a city within Harris County, has red-light cameras but will continue to utilize its red-light cameras until their contract ends in 2024.

“My guys literally go work intersections in patrol cars and view these folks that run lights on their own and write tickets,” Herman said. “We continue to monitor not only the red lights but all traffic laws up in Pct. 4 and we’ll continue to do it. I think last year we wrote over 200,000 traffic violations which included citations and warnings.”

©2019 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.