Texas House Sends Bill to Ban Red-Light Cameras to Senate

The 108-35 vote will be followed by a final vote that will send House Bill 1631 to the Senate, potentially spelling the end of automated cameras that snap photos of traffic violations at marked intersections.

by Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman / May 8, 2019
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(TNS) — The Texas House gave initial approval Tuesday night to a bill that would outlaw red-light cameras in Austin and other cities across Texas.

The 108-35 vote will be followed by a final vote Wednesday that will send House Bill 1631 to the Senate, potentially spelling the end of automated cameras that snap photos of traffic violations at certain marked intersections, leading to mailed tickets that typically carry a $75 fine.

The author of the bill, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said he believes the cameras violate the Constitution's guarantee of due process for those accused of traffic violations.

"We do not have the right to face our accuser, and I believe that studies have shown that when it comes to safety, the evidence does not suggest that cameras decrease accidents," he said, adding that drivers tend to slam on brakes to avoid a ticket, leading to a rise in rear-end collisions.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, urged legislators to oppose Stickland's bill, arguing that red-light cameras have been shown to reduce the number of dangerous T-bone or right-angle collisions from vehicles running a red light.

"We have a technological tool at our disposal to help save Texas lives," Israel told House members. "Since Nov. 7, 2000, over 66,000 Texans have lost their lives on our roadways ... We are trying to avert the most serious, deadly types of accidents."

Advocates say red-light cameras reduce dangerous collisions at intersections with 24-hour surveillance that discourages drivers from running red lights while freeing patrol officers to concentrate on other duties.

The cameras are also lucrative.

Across Texas, red-light cameras generate about $39.6 million a year in fines, according to an analysis by the Legislative Budget Board. Half of the money goes to the state to help fund hospital trauma centers, and half stays with the city to pay for traffic safety and public safety programs.

An amendment added to HB 1631 Tuesday would allow cities to continue operating red-light cameras until current contracts with camera operators expire. Automatic renewal language in contracts also would not be enforceable.

"Once over, they cannot renew their contracts and we are done with red-light cameras," said Rep. Mando Martinez, D-Weslaco, author of the amendment, which was adopted despite Stickland's opposition.

"The troubling thing about this amendment," Stickland said, "is this isn't about safety for these cities that want this. This is about one thing and one thing only — it's about revenue, and it's time for us to end the practice of policing for profit."

The action in the Legislature came one week after the Texas Supreme Court disappointed opponents of red light cameras by declining to rule on the constitutionality of the traffic-control devices.

Instead, the state's highest civil court ruled narrowly, tossing out the case on procedural grounds, saying the man challenging the cameras, having paid his fine, lacked standing to seek court relief.

Russell Bowman, an Irving lawyer behind that case and several other legal challenges seeking to end red-light cameras, said he will file a motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the case.

"The whole basis for our appeal was never addressed at all," Bowman said. "It's just disappointing. If we're wrong, just tell us, but don't just ignore it."

Such motions, however, are rarely granted, but Bowman said another case pending before the Houston-based 1st Court of Appeals could provide a second chance to determine whether the cameras are constitutional.

But he said it could take a year for oral arguments to be scheduled, and an opinion issued, before that case could be ready for the Supreme Court to consider.

©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.