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Bill to repeal red-light cameras squeaks by in first Senate panel

Sen. Rene Garcia's proposal to get rid of red-light cameras at traffic intersections made it through its first Florida Senate committee Tuesday -- barely.

The measure, sponsored by Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, drew a crowd to the Senate's transportation committee. There were more bill opponents than supporters, and most committee members said they plan to vote against the proposal if it makes it to the Senate floor.

But they still voted moved the bill forward for now, out of courtesy to committee member Garcia. They also said they want the bill to be vetted further.

Garcia said he put forth the plan because he has privacy concerns. "I come from a community that fears government," he said, referring to Cuban Americans. "They left their homeland because of Big Brother watching them on every corner."

He also questioned why municipalities have been so eager to adopt the cameras. Garcia suggested it was not for safety, as elected officials say, but to generate revenue from fines.

One state estimate says the state could lose $70 million next year -- and cities could lose $76 million -- if the cameras are declared illegal.

But law enforcement officials lined up in the committee to say the cameras help prevent dangerous car crashes. "We're seeing a 30-50 percent reduction in accidents," said St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon, whose city is set to put up the cameras.

Opponents countered that the cameras are imperfect. "We have policemen to do this job," said Paul Henry, a retired state trooper. Several members of a Kissimmee-based group called Florida Campaign for Liberty said the cameras are troubling because they ticket cars as opposed to drivers.

Two committee members, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, voted against the bill. Garcia, Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Vice-Chairman Greg Evers, R-Crestview, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, supported the measure. Latvala said he would vote against it on the Senate floor.

A similar bill in the House has also cleared one committee.