MO bill restricts red-light cameras, has trucking-related provisions

| 3/30/2009

The Missouri Senate approved a bill that would put new restrictions on the use of cameras to ticket motorists who run red lights. The bill, which now moves to the House, also reins in speed traps, bans texting while driving, and includes several trucking provisions.

Senators added an amendment to a larger transportation bill that would require police to positively identify drivers by face, not by the vehicle, before tickets can be issued. A snapshot of the rear license plate on the vehicle also would be needed.

The cameras, which are in use in more than two dozen Missouri towns, snap pictures of red-light runners’ vehicles. A ticket is mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, offered the amendment to protect the rights of citizens.

“We have got to quit incrementally giving away our rights. And there are constitutional rights being trampled on with these cameras. Let’s put the burden back on those enforcing the law and not on citizens,” Lembke told lawmakers during floor debate.

Another provision added on the Senate floor is intended to curtail those communities in the state that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue. The measure would revise a 14-year-old law to further limit the amount of total revenue a town or city can receive from traffic violation fines.

Supporters say the effort isn’t intended to punish local governments. They want to rein in cities that use their police departments to “pester” nonresident drivers with unreasonable ticketing.

In 1995, Missouri lawmakers approved legislation limiting the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Under that law, cities or towns that receive more than 45 percent of their total annual revenue from fines for traffic violations must turn over any amount in excess of that 45 percent to the Department of Revenue.

For cities with fewer than 1,000 residents, the bill would reduce the amount to 35 percent.

A separate provision added to the bill would outlaw sending text messages while driving. Violators would face fines of up to $200. Infractions would be counted against drivers’ records.

Among the trucking provisions in the bill are rules prohibiting the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses to haul hazmat to people who fail to pass background checks and rules on violating out-of-service orders.

Trucks transporting hazardous materials could be driven solely by operators who pass a background check by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Licenses would be denied or revoked if the federal agency issues a “determination of a threat” by drivers.

Supporters say the change is needed to address federal rules that require states to deny or revoke licenses to people who pose threats to the country.

Another provision would prohibit expunging records of CDL holders if they are found guilty or plead guilty with a blood-alcohol content of .04 percent or greater while holding a CDL at the time of the offense.

A separate provision would mandate that CDL holders who fail to appear in court or pay would lose their driving privileges until they fulfill their obligations.

One more provision is intended to discourage violating out-of-service orders. People convicted of driving while out of service would be disqualified from driving truck “in a manner prescribed by the federal regulations.”

Supporters say adoption of the OOS penalty would preserve some of Missouri’s federal highway funding.

The bill – SB58 – now awaits assignment to committee in the House.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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