Oklahoma lawmakers reinstitute ‘speed trap’ law

| 6/8/2007

Just when former “speed trap” towns in Oklahoma thought they could get their ticket books back out, legislators in the statehouse opted to undo an effort granting police that authority.

In the waning hours of the regular session that wrapped up May 25, House and Senate lawmakers voted to approve a bill – SB748 – that would repeal an effort that sought to allow several small towns to resume issuing tickets on state and federal highways within their city limits. Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill into law several weeks ago that granted five towns more ticketing authority.

Upon further review, the Senate voted 44-2 to reinstate the speed trap protections. House lawmakers followed suit on an 81-13 vote. On June 4, the governor agreed to go along with the Legislature and reinstate the protections. As a result, towns that had been designated as speed traps are, once again, limited where they can issue citations.

Until 2003, the sky was the limit for the amount of money communities could keep from police fines. For that reason, towns such as Caney, Big Cabin, Moffett, Shamrock and Stringtown had become well known to truckers and motorists alike.

Fred Gravett, an OOIDA member from Atoka, OK, told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio it started out with one officer running radar.

“Business was so good, they bought another trooper car and hired two more cops,” Gravett said. “The next thing you know, they’re driving brand-new SUVs. They’re doing OK for themselves, writing tickets right and left.”

The Legislature and Henry later barred the towns from enforcing speed limits on highways in the wake of an investigation by The Oklahoman that found eight cities and towns in the state were getting more than 50 percent of their money from police fines, and at least 18 communities in the state were getting more than 26 percent of their money from police fines.

The new law, which took effect May 1, was to prevent the speed trap designation from being issued in the future. It also was supposed to remove the label from the communities affected by the 2003 law. But, the governor signed the bill to undo the law that took effect My 1.

That law, expanding patrolling authority, came in the form of a last-minute addition to an 80-page bill that was nearing passage in the statehouse. Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, a retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer, had inserted an amendment paving the way for the towns that had become notorious for writing tickets to once again have unfettered authority.

Supporters said the change was needed because police departments must be allowed to enforce traffic laws. They also said people who follow the law shouldn’t have to worry about the change.

Opponents said it was a matter that deserved more debate instead of being inserted quietly. The Tulsa World reported that Rep. Glen Smithson, D-Sallisaw, went as far as to refer to the action as a clear case of a “woolly-booger.” The term is used when referring to a clause slipped in at the last minute.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this report.