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Red-light camera repeal stays alive in House

A Florida House budget panel voted narrowly on Wednesday to keep an alive an effort to outlaw red-light traffic cameras.

The Legislature passed a law last year regulating the cameras. But Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, cited a slew of examples from cities and states across the country where he said the cameras were not preventing accidents.

"This isn't exactly what we thought it was," said Corcoran, a freshman lawmaker who has been tapped to be House speaker in 2017. "Let's step back and figure out a way from scratch where we can make these intersections safer for our families."

Courts have thrown out many red-light camera tickets, he added, saying the problems with implementing last year’s bill are "overwhelming." Corcoran argued intersections could be made safer using other measures, such as changing the timing of traffic lights and improving signage and road painting.

After about an hour and a half of discussion, the appropriations committee sided with Corcoran -- even though law enforcement and other advocates cautioned that getting rid of the cameras would put drivers' lives in danger -- and cost Florida municipalities some $71 million in revenue from camera tickets.

"Our sheriff tells us that these red-light cameras are saving lives," concluded Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

The most emotional testimony came from Melissa Wandall, whose husband, Mark, from Bradenton, was killed by a red-light camera runner in 2003. At the time, Wandall was nine months pregnant.

Wandall vowed after her husband's death to do something about drivers who run red lights. She pushed for the law former Gov. Charlie Crist signed last year, known as the "Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act."

"I have come up here for six years keeping that promise to my husband," a composed Wandall told the committee Wednesday. "Put yourself in my shoes."

A House staff analysis on HB 4087 -- co-sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami -- estimated repealing the red lights would cost the state some $86 million next year and local municipalities more than $71 million. Rep. Denise Grimsley, the Sebring Republican who chairs the budget committee, said about $70 million had been set aside in the House budget in case Corcoran's bill passes.

A portion of the $158 fine issued to drivers caught by the cameras goes to the state. Since July, the state has received the most money from Orlando ($1.1 million), Miami Gardens ($928,000), Aventura ($911,000) and Hillsborough County ($907,000).

The bill now heads to the House floor. Its companion in the Senate, SB 672, has stalled and only barely made it out of one committee earlier last month.