Louisiana 'speed trap' bill turned back

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, April 04, 2014

The Louisiana House turned back an effort to discourage small cities and towns from relying on traffic tickets to fill local coffers because of “shaming” concerns.

Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Crowville, introduced a bill that would require communities that get more than half of their revenue from speeding tickets to post “speed trap” signs. Blinking lights alerting travelers to the designation was also required.

“These signs will make the public aware that they are entering a speed zone, or speed trap per se,” Pylant said during House floor discussion. “The question is, do you want to slow them down or have them continue to come through at an excessive rate?”

Pylant, a former sheriff in Franklin Parish, referred to about a dozen communities in the state that records show local police issue a disproportionately high number of traffic tickets.

A legislative auditor’s report from 2007 appears to validate the concerns shared by Pylant and others. The report showed there were 15 cities that generated more than 50 percent their total revenue during a three-year period from speeding tickets. The top revenue earner was Baskin, La. The northeastern Louisiana village claimed 87 percent of total revenue from speeders.

Three other cities also claimed at least 85 percent of revenues from speeding fines.

“It boils down to whether it’s about public safety or is it about generating revenue,” Pylant said.

Despite the statistics, House lawmakers voted 52-44 to get rid of the “speed trap” language and replace it with “strict speed enforcement zone.” They also pulled the plug on the lights.

Opponents said that speeders should be held accountable for their actions. They also criticized what they believe is an attempt to shame police departments for doing their job.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said that, once the affected towns can no longer count on ticket revenue, they will turn to the budget-troubled state to help bail them out.

An attempt by Pylant to reinsert the lighting requirement into HB961 was defeated on a 48-48 vote. He later used a legislative procedure that effectively kills the bill.

A separate bill would define and prohibit speed traps in the state. HB962 remains in the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.

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