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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Florida lawmakers give green light to red-light cameras

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 11:28 AM

  • Photo by Dave Dugdale via Flickr
The annual effort to ban red-light cameras in Florida crashed Tuesday when the Senate Transportation Committee rejected the idea in a tie vote.

"To all the lobbyists, you got me," said Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, complaining his bill (SB 178) faced opposition from a 24-member lobbying team hired by American Traffic Solutions, the dominant red-light camera vendor in Florida.

Artiles, who was elected to the Senate in November after serving in the House, has been one of the strongest advocates for repealing a law that allows Florida's cities and counties to install red-light cameras.

His legislation, and a companion House bill (HB 6007), sought to repeal use of the cameras by July 1, 2020.

Tuesday's vote came down to one of the Senate's smallest committees, which was further diminished by the absence of Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican who is recovering from a cancer treatment.

The key vote came from committee Chairman George Gainer, a newly elected senator who was a longtime Bay County commissioner.

Gainer, who said his community has never authorized red-light cameras, said he opposed Artiles' bill because he believed it should be left up to the local governments to decide whether to install the devices.

"They know more about their traffic patterns," Gainer, R-Panama City, said. "They know more about their intersections."

If the cameras are "a bad deal," Gainer said local elected officials would have to face their voters.

Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, joined Gainer in opposing the bill, which was filed for the legislative session that starts March 7. In the Legislature, tie votes kill bills.

Rader said his constituents were split about the use of the cameras and that his wife had advised him to support the cameras if they "saved one life."

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, voted for Artiles' bill, resulting in the 2-2 tie.

Baxley said he originally supported the use of red-light cameras when he served in the House. But he has since become convinced the cameras and the related fines are imposing a financial "hardship" on Floridians and are not improving public safety.

"I have buyer's remorse," Baxley said. "This did not turn out the way I intended it."

The Transportation Committee vote effectively kills Artiles' bill. But the issue may not be over for the session.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for the Senate, said "procedurally there are other bills that could address the same issue."

Artiles and other advocates of the bill believed their case had been bolstered by a Dec. 31 report from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles showing intersection crashes were up 10.41 percent when comparing data before the cameras were installed and after they were in place.

Camera supporters complained the report was flawed because it included crashes up to 250 feet from the intersections. They say the devices have improved roadway safety.

Opponents said the cameras, which lead to a $158 fine for violators, had become a new revenue source for local governments and red-light camera companies, which earn an average of $4,250 or more per month from each camera.

The red-light cameras are expected to generate about $148 million this year, with $75 million going to the state and $73 million to local governments.

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