Arizona bills call for changes to photo enforcement

| 3/16/2010

Arizona lawmakers continue to advance legislation that addresses the use of red-light and speed cameras throughout the state. The majority of bills drawing consideration would put restrictions in place on the use of the enforcement tool, while others seek to make it nearly impossible to continue the program.

A handful of bills awaiting Senate floor debate would make changes to the state’s photo enforcement system.

The use of photo enforcement has been a hot topic in Arizona the past few years. In 2008, then Gov. Janet Napolitano brought the enforcement tool to the state while touting projections of $90 million being generated along one stretch of freeway in Scottsdale.

Critics of the enforcement tool, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, say the former governor’s comments are proof that the enforcement tool is being used primarily to fill coffers instead of simply trying to keep people safe.

Since then, like-minded Arizona lawmakers have sought passage of legislation that would put restrictions on the use of cameras or get rid of them completely. The House approved a measure that addresses concern about “gotcha” tickets at intersections with red-light cameras.

A violation for running a red light by a photo system could be given only if the vehicle is photographed at least one second after the signal turns to a steady red. Intended to avoid communities shortening the length of their yellow times, the duration of yellow lights would be required to be at least three seconds.

Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, said the bill is needed to create uniformity in the state. He also pointed out that it will address deliberate attempts to shorten yellow light duration times.

“It’s a way to generate large amounts of revenue at the expense of our constituents. These people are being cited for a microsecond change in the yellow light,” Antenori told House lawmakers during floor discussion.

Antenori shared a statistic that 90 percent of photo enforcement citations issued in the state are for violations occurring within one second of the light change. He said that 99 percent of wrecks at intersections posted with cameras occur three to eight seconds after the light turns red.

“Almost no accidents occur in the first second,” Antenori said.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said lawmakers are meddling in affairs about which they don’t have enough knowledge to make informed decisions.

“We cannot overstep our boundaries in areas we don’t have expertise,” Farley cautioned.

Rep. Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, disagreed. “The state does have the right and authority, to regulate,” he said. “This makes so much sense.”

The House approved the bill on a 36-24 vote. HB2338 has moved to the Senate Public Safety & Human Services and Rules committees.

In an effort to soothe critics, one bill awaiting Senate floor consideration would make some changes to the system.

The bill – SB1443 – would prohibit a photo system from being placed on roads within 600 feet of a speed limit change. It would also require vehicles to travel in excess of 11 mph of the posted limit to set off the cameras. Exceptions would be made in school and work zones. In addition, 35 percent of fine revenue would be used for new law enforcement equipment.

Also awaiting Senate floor debate is a proposed ballot initiative with the same provisions. If approved by lawmakers, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1059 would go before voters.

Supporters say that the legislation is moving in the right direction.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, voted in favor of the restrictions despite his preference to completely get rid of photo enforcement. Melvin has said he felt the legislation would help “defang” the system until an anticipated voter referendum is added to the November ballot to outlaw the enforcement tool.

On the House side is a bill intended to get rid of speed cameras on the state’s highways. Awaiting consideration on the House floor, HB2085 would essentially repeal the program by mandating a citation from the photo enforcement system be issued by a police officer at the time of the violation.

Whether any of the bills to restrict or banish the use of cameras will be able to advance through both chambers of the statehouse, the long-term prospects of the state’s program are uncertain. Gov. Jan Brewer has indicated she is willing to let the state’s contract to use the cameras expire this July, and allow voters to have the final say on the program’s future.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Arizona in 2010, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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