Tennessee, New Jersey bills limit locals' ticket revenue stream

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/14/2014

Two states are considering bills that are intended to curb overzealous law enforcement.

A bill on the governor's desk would stop small cities and towns in Tennessee from relying on traffic tickets to fill local coffers.

State law now requires municipalities with fewer than 10,000 residents to have proper permits to patrol on interstates. In addition, the patrols are only allowed within city limits.

The Senate voted unanimously to send a bill to Gov. Bill Haslam that would put more rules in place on towns doing traffic enforcement on interstates. House lawmakers already approved HB1863 on a 95-1 vote.

Towns with populations between 2,500 and 10,000 would be required to have at least one entrance ramp and one exit ramp within city limits to patrol the interstate. Communities with fewer than 2,500 residents would be required to have two interstate entrances and exits.

Affected towns would also be required to use “properly marked” law enforcement vehicles.

“The bill better identifies municipalities that would have the need to patrol an interstate that comes into contact with their citizens,” Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, said during recent committee discussion on the bill.

Otherwise, he said anyone speeding would be considered a passerby. “Any community that would otherwise issue a citation, the reason for the ticket to be written would be revenue only.”

Spivey said the bill targets Cornersville, Tenn., which sits along Interstate 65. He referred to the police force serving the community of about 1,000 people as a “bad actor.”

According to published reports, the community receives about 50 percent of its revenue – about $250,000 – from traffic citations, fines and fees.

Another effort to curtail speed traps is underway at the New Jersey statehouse.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Ocean, introduced a bill that would allow travelers to flash headlights to warn drivers about what is ahead.

Garden State law now authorizes police to issue citations to drivers who flashed their lights to warn others for “improper use of multiple beam headlights.”

Dancer’s bill would clarify that drivers could not be cited and fined for alerting other travelers about police or traffic hazards.

“If tickets are being issued for blinking the lights, frankly, that is an overly aggressive tactic to preserve the flow of easy money from speed traps,” Dancer said in a news release. “The goal should be safe roads and highways, not a money grab for municipal treasuries.”

Dancer referred to a driver in Ellisville, Mo., who was fined $1,000 for flashing his headlights to alert drivers about police stationed ahead. A federal judge later sided with the man, ruling that flashing headlights to warn drivers was protected speech.

“When you come down to it, this is a free speech issue,” Dancer said. “Common sense tells us a person should be able to look out for others and warn them of hidden dangers.”

The bill, A2922, is in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

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