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Alabama House Slow to Pull Plug on Traffic Cameras

Even after a lengthy committee hearing, lawmakers are not convinced that the removal of automated speed and red-light cameras is the right course of action.

(TNS) — A House committee on Wednesday gave a yellow light to a bill that would ban automated traffic cameras statewide.

The legislation from Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, got a lengthy hearing from the House Public Safety and Homeland Security but ended up going to a subcommittee amid defenses of the cameras from city and law enforcement officials.

Johnson’s bill would end the use of red light and speeding cameras, which the city of Montgomery has used for about a decade. Speaking to the committee Wednesday, Johnson said cities that deployed the cameras were trying to circumvent state law.

“I think you’ve got a constitutional question that involves due process,” he said. “I ought to have the right to face my accusers.”

Montgomery’s red-light cameras faced removal in a local bill sponsored by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, in last year’s session. The bill died after a tied vote, with Democrats on committee saying they heard numerous complaints about the law and Republicans saying it improved safety.

Montgomery city officials for years have maintained the cameras are not major revenue generators for the city. Lt. Stanley Rucker of the Montgomery Police Department said the cameras were having an impact on reducing crashes in the city, and also cutting the number of collisions that result in injuries.

“We have intersections now that aren’t issuing the tickets they were because people are knowledgeable about where they are,” he said.

Scott Holmes, an attorney with the city of Tuscaloosa, called the matter a local issue and said that money generated from cameras since 2013 had helped purchase equipment for the local police department.

“Since the first red-light camera went in, there have been 31,000 citations issued,” he said. “That is 31,000 people running a red light at only six intersections at Tuscaloosa.” Holmes did not have information on accident data, saying the city had to physically pull that.

Committee members questioned how much revenue was going to the communities. Most city officials said they got around 70 percent of the money from each ticket and said the money from the cameras generated no more than 1.5 percent of their total revenues.

While few members of the committee expressed a particular fondness for the red-light cameras, several legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — suggested this was a decision best left to local governments. Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, who opposes red-light cameras, said the Legislature should not ignore local officials who want them.

“When we started passing these type of bills, people looked at it like it was home rule,” she said. “And we did give them that option to have those cameras in municipalities.”

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, said that local officials who want the cameras should face the consequences, for better or worse.

“They’re all like we are,” he said. “They’re elected. They can be voted out.”

Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, the chairman of the committee and a captain with the Birmingham Police Department, said after the meeting he wanted to see more information on “where the cameras were being deployed,” and suggested an openness to greater regulations on the cameras.

Johnson, who said his bill generated a lot of interest, left the door open to bill changes.

“I think anything would be an improvement that makes citizens feel better,” he said.

©2018 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.