Texas bills target red light cameras

| 3/12/2007

A handful of bills in the Texas Legislature would either rein in or eliminate cities' use of automated cameras.

The cameras, which snap pictures of red-light runners or speeders' vehicle tags, have been authorized in various cities throughout the state since 2003. Tickets are mailed to vehicle owners, regardless who was driving at the time.

A bill offered by Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, is intended to make the use of red-light cameras less lucrative for local coffers. The bill - SB125 - would cap fines for running red lights and require cities to share fines generated by the cameras with the state.

Carona's committee approved the bill after adding a provision that would cap the statewide maximum fine at $75 for first offenders. Revenue from the fines would first pay for the costs associated with the cameras - about 40 percent of the money. The remaining funds would be split between the state and cities, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Cities would be required to use their share of the profits for public safety and traffic needs. The state would route its proceeds to the state fund to support trauma care and emergency medical services. The bill's next stop is the Senate floor.

Carona said the change to state law is needed because some cities are levying fines of $150 or more for motorists caught running red lights.

"What we've tried to do through this legislation is curb the use of these cameras for financial reasons," Carona told lawmakers. "They need to be centered around public safety."

Another bill offered by Carona would establish criteria for where red-light cameras can be posted. Cities would be required to do traffic studies at intersections they want to use cameras.

The bill - SB1119 - is awaiting assignment to committee.

A separate bill would essentially negate cities' authority to use cameras at intersections. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, the bill would block all city governments in the state from using cameras to nab red-light runners. Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, has introduced a similar bill in the House.

Jackson's bill - SB195 - is in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.