Oregon bill could put the brakes on speed traps

| 1/18/2005

An Oregon state lawmaker is renewing his campaign against lucrative speed traps.

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, introduced a measure Jan. 13 banning ticketing agencies from keeping a portion of traffic fines.

In 2003, Prozanski pushed bills to limit the city of Coburg’s ability to use its speed-limit enforcement on Interstate 5 as a profit center. His latest effort would take it statewide.

Currently, the revenue collected from traffic offenses flows into the coffers of the law-enforcement agency’s jurisdiction.

Under the bill, half of the money collected would be split evenly between the state school fund, where the money would be earmarked for high school driver’s education, and police officer training. The remaining half would continue to go to the court where the cases are handled.

With traffic tickets generating $30 million in revenue through the state circuit courts alone, the bill could mean a big shift of dollars away from local governments.

For years, speed as a source of revenue has been a controversial issue for Coburg, a town of about 1,000 people north of Eugene.

It all started with a Coburg motorcycle police officer, stationed outside city limits to “enforce safety.” The officer knocked out 1,376 speeding tickets in a six-month period. that’s about 230 tickets a month.

A year and a half later, at the urging of state police and sheriff’s departments, Prozanski sponsored legislation to end the practice, saying it was unethical.

“When you basically start funding your programs or your departments based on the revenue you’re bringing in, we lose the focus of what law enforcement believes is their duty,” Prozanski told Land Line.

Coburg later annexed a piece of land east of I-5, which broadened its police department’s jurisdiction to include the part of the freeway where they were collecting fines. Meanwhile, the lone motorcycle officer morphed into a traffic team of eight full-time officers and several reserves.

According to The Oregonian, the officers stopped thousands more I-5 drivers in 2003 than the much larger Eugene, Springfield and Lane County departments combined, writing $1.4 million in tickets.

In her state of the city address earlier this month, Coburg Mayor Judy Volta insisted they are not using the freeway patrols as a way to make money for the town. The patrols, the fines and where the money is going are all legal.

Prozanski, himself a prosecutor in Florence’s municipal court, said his proposal would halt other cities or counties from setting up police teams solely for traffic enforcement. He pointed out the cities of Boardman, along I-84 in north central Oregon, and Gearhart, along U.S. 101 in northwest Oregon, who are looking at setting up teams similar to Coburg’s.

Prozanski expects a fight from a lot of cities and counties who oppose his effort. But he said it’s important he “put a shot across the bow to make certain communities know the conduct Coburg has been involved in is not an example they should be following.”

SB295 is awaiting assignment to a committee.

– Keith Goble, state legislative editor