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Daphne Campbell's bill banning red light cameras clears first hurdle

Just two years after state lawmakers passed a law that allowed the use of red light cameras on Florida streets, a House committee reversed course and approved a bill that would banish them.

The House Economic Affairs Committee narrowly approved HB 4011 by a 10-8 vote, underscoring just how divisive the public safety program is.

 “I believe (cameras) save lives,” said Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. “But the problem is there’s something about being confronted after committing an act. When you’re in Indiana, or Illinois, and you visit our state, and two weeks later you get a surprise in the mail, that doesn’t change behavior. That makes you mad.”

The odds are long that the bill will get much further. It heads to House Appropriations next. Law enforcement agencies, who get paid a portion of the millions that are made from the cameras, oppose it. As do counties and cities that starved for revenues following the worst recession in memory.

But on Thursday at least, it was a victory for Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, the initial sponsor of the bill. A nurse, Campbell said the vast majority of her constituents are seniors or are living in poverty, and a single ticket would burden them with a hardship they can’t afford. She disputes that cameras make streets safer, and alleges that many of them target low income areas.

“I know our community voted for us to be here,” Campbell told the 18 member committee. “The voters voted for you to come here. You have to be in anyone’s pockets. You have to be here for your citizens.”

Her appeal worked mostly with libertarian-leaning Republicans. Each of those in support of Campbell’s bill were Republicans.

“I’m not for growing government,” said the committee chair, Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. “So I haven’t like the proliferation of these cameras, especially when you’re profiteering from them.”

Of the nine who voted against the bill, six were Democrats.

“My wife got a violation and it changed her behavior,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa. “That made me support cameras even more, because they really do save lives.”

Campbell’s campaign against the cameras is either a quixotic one, driven by a romantic urge to lift the afflicted in her Miami district, or a self-serving one. Or both.

But Campbell faces a credibility problem. She and her husband were slapped last year with $145,000 worth in liens and her family has come under increased scrutiny for mortgage and Medicaid fraud. When the Times/Herald asked her last week if she was sponsoring HB 4011 because her husband's Honda Odyssey minivan had racked up five violations since 2010, she said she only knew about one violation and doubted the video and photographic evidence that the other violations had happened.

Rather than objecting to a program that has cost her household, Campbell said she’s pushing for a camera ban because of her constituents, who she says want the cameras gone. Several of them called the Times/Herald this week to complain about the cameras after a story about her husband's violations was published.

Louis Toussaint was one of them. On Tuesday, he said he wanted to draw attention to the public unrest swirling about red light cameras in Miami.

"I heard a lot of people complaining about the cameras," said the 75-year-old. "There's a general protest."

When asked who was complaining, however, Toussaint hesitated.

"I don't know, not everybody."

Well, who exactly?

"I cannot say," he said. "I speak for myself."

Turns out, Toussaint acknowledged, he called on behalf of Campbell.

On the same day that Toussaint and others called the Times/Herald, Campbell’s legislative assistant, Nadine Charles, issued a news release stating the nature of Campbell’s campaign against the cameras.

“Several of her constituents have called and have come to her office to complain,” the release said, adding that Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, had joined in her fight against them.

Not all the members of the committee were impressed with Campbell’s case.

Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, asked her if she had any evidence that the cameras were placed in low income areas. Campbell explained that she has received many emailed complaints about the cameras, and that many people she met on the campaign trail criticized them.

Hooper stopped her and said that was only anecdotal evidence.

“I asked if you had any actual evidence but it’s obvious you don’t,” said Hooper, who later voted against the bill.

Trujillo said he’s been a long-time opponent of red light cameras, having sponsored a similar bill banning them in 2010. He said he doubts that red light cameras make intersections safer.

The two of them are sole sponsors of a bill that’s asking lawmakers to reverse the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, the bill many of whom passed in 2010 that allows the use of red-light cameras.

American Traffic Solutions, a Scottsdale, Ariz. company led the charge in the legislation and now serves 70 jurisdictions in 20 Florida counties, including Miami, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Of the $158 collected from every citation, the state takes $83. The remaining $75 is split between the city and the camera vendor. If a ticket is unpaid after 30 days, it can increase another $110.

Campbell and opponents say the cameras have one main purpose: to make money. One opponent said that was proven by the fact that Campbell’s bill was getting heard first not by a public safety committee, but an economic affairs committee.

To be sure, they make money. According to the Florida Department of Revenue, cities and counties made $51 million last year. Miami’s red light cameras produced $4.9 million, the most in the state.

Tampa's net revenues from the cameras totaled $2.3 million last year. Those are net revenues after the state's share and the city paid a $1 million fee to ATS. St. Petersburg collected $707,226 for its coffers.

But the claim that cameras make dangerous intersections safer is still up for debate.

A report last year of accidents compiled by the state from 73 different law enforcement agencies found that more than half of Florida agencies, 41, say accidents are less frequent at intersections using red-light camera technology.

Crashes were more frequent in 11 of the 73 jurisdictions while the rest saw no change or didn’t have enough information. Miami led the state in the number of violations, and reported a decline in crashes.

Crashes at intersections with red light cameras fell by nearly a third the year after Tampa officials installed the technology, police records show. Yet in St. Petersburg, city records show that rear-end wrecks at intersections with red light cameras spiked 44 percent between November 2011 and October 2012. Also, total crashes actually jumped 10 percent at intersections with cameras in the program's first year.

Comments

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Red Means Stop

If low income cities don't want them then they don't have to implement them at the municipal level. This should not be a State issue but a municipal one.

These lights make streets safer, supplement an overburdened police force, provide for expedience and efficiency of law enforcement with public funds, and are less burdensome than receiving a ticket from a being stopped by a police officer which adds points to your license and could result in additional violations.

People willfully break traffic lights laws all the time putting others at risk, if this stops people from breaking these laws and reducing accidents then they are a positive for many communities who should be afforded the ability to utilize them.

Rep Campbell should confiscate the keys to her minivan and spare the rest of the state of her Family's business.

A Driver

I don't know representative Campbell. But you are wrong but Red means alot more then stop, in two low income cities in Miami Dade.

In North Miami and Miami Gardens if you make a COMPLETE STOP at a red light before you turn right on red you can get a ticket. If you do not stop on the first line at the intersection but make a complete stop you will still get a ticket. The officer in charge of the program in North Miami told me that after I got a ticket for turning right on red after I made a full stop. She also said that an officer would probably not give a ticket for that if he saw me on the road.

These cameras are really about generating revenue more than about safety. If the state keeps them they need change the rules to make them safe and fair, in many interesections the yellow light is so schort there in no way to get the thru the intersection before it turns red.

Rep Campbell may not be the best sponsor but the red light cameras need to elimnated or the rules changed so they are fair. She is also right that the worst offenders I know are North Miami and Miami Gardens so she which are low income cities.

Don't kill a good bill because you don't like the sponsor.

Chris

I agree with A. Driver in that the system should be tweaked to make it fair across the board. The fines are a bit steep and the warning signs that inform drivers of an oncoming red light camera are a joke. If you can't make the system fair for the taxpayer who paid for the system then you are using the taxpayers money to entrap them.

Leonard L Myers

I believe the cameras are doing there job, well. But I think that the Fines could be tweaked, and the insurance companies could help with the cost of operation of these. They benefit as well as the community, and the state. Also Campbell and Trujillo, and others should know, if one of my loved ones are killed in a red light accident, upon the removal of these light cameras, they will be held as reponsible as the driver that committed the offense

Bill Shepherd

Rep Campbell's arguments to repeal the law are without merit, and she knows that. If her primary opposition is due to the law being "a revenue generator", all that is necessary is to remove the State's money grab. Why didn't she make that her motion. The law has been demonstrated to reduce accidents, thus reducing injuries and lives lost. As a nurse, Rep Campbell is surely aware of those brought into ERs as a result of inattentive or deliberate illegal actions by drivers. So rather than address the safety issues she focuses on an easy remedy. Do I smell one seeking voter sympathy or a very personal intent?

John Doe

"Law enforcement agencies,(AKA PIGS) who get paid a portion of the millions that are made from the cameras, oppose it. As do counties and cities(AKA MOOCHERS)"
Cameras have to go !

Paul Henry

Although referred to in the quasi-story as "one opponent", my name is Paul Henry, and I am a retired Florida Trooper that has performed many analysis reports on automated for-profit devices. Unlike the cities or the state survey, I publish crash data so you can see exactly how many crashes there were.

Since this quasi-story does not list the numerous other points I made, I have downloaded the meeting's audio file of that portion and placed it on my website.
http://bit.ly/W1iCeE

If you'd like to learn more about automated for-profit law enforcement and why it is both a bad idea and un-American, please Google red light camera reference page.

James Walker

Several points:
1) The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) changed the rules on how cities must set yellow intervals in July 2011. The new rules allow cities to deliberately set the yellows too short for the actual traffic approach speeds for the sole purpose of causing more split second violations at $158 a pop, of which the state takes the first $83 (52.5%). Red light cameras are a massive source of state revenue, facilitated by the FDOT change.
2) If Florida cities just added one second to the yellow intervals, most cameras would be removed because they would lose too much money and money is the only real purpose for the cameras.
3) If a statewide vote was held, the cameras would lose and be removed.
4) Research the camera company campaign donations and you will find that most legislators who voted against bill #4011 in the committee got such donations.
5) Collier County just voted to dump the predatory cash grab cameras and lengthen their yellow intervals for better results than the cameras achieved. This is what every Florida city should do.
James C. Walker, National Motorists Association (recent visitor to Florida in January)

Paul

The yellow lights have been shorten and there is more to this story then most know. Peoples at the speed limit approaching the intersection make it almost impossible to make a complete safe stop. The light turns red and boom.... A violation to this very bad person is mailed with threatening verbage of increased fines if you dont pay in an orderly fashion.

Jc

I do not I repeat do not run red lights. Yet I have gotten 3 of these tickets. I know that im being charged for driving on the yellow that changes to red. This is not the same as driving through the red. Ideally given the circumstances I would never get caught in the middle of the street again but it happens and the camera crooks know it. These cameras are nothing short of sanctioned victimization of the people and they should be removed immediately. If there were ever a highway robbery joke being played on us its these traffic cameras that appear to be telling the truth but that are just the toys of legitimized theives.

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