Louisiana bill targets 'speed trap' town

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A bill in the Louisiana House is intended to discourage one small town from relying on traffic tickets to fill local coffers.

The full House could vote this week on a bill that would forbid municipalities from issuing speeding tickets if less than one-half mile of the interstate travel lane is within the city limits. HB1233 targets the St. Landry Parish town of Washington, which annexed a quarter-mile stretch of vacant land along Interstate 49.

A 2009 state law targeted communities without home rule charters that have police patrol spots on interstates and issue tickets as a way to generate revenue.

Speed traps are not prohibited in the law but it requires that in affected areas where tickets are issued for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit, revenues from the tickets must be routed to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, told members of the House Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee during recent discussion on the bill that Washington and other towns converted to home rule charters to avoid the rule.

Seabaugh testified the police in the south Louisiana town regularly ticket interstate travelers for driving one or two miles above the posted 75 mph speed limit.

He said the ticketing practices in the town with fewer than 1,000 residents allowed them to collect $1.3 million in fines and forfeitures in one year. The collection accounted for 84 percent of the town’s revenue.

“We’re simply taking them off the interstate where they have only a small piece of town ... so they can bite off a little piece of the apple,” Seabaugh said.

During House floor discussion this week on a related bill, Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, countered that the police chief in Washington denies Seabaugh’s claims. Thierry, whose district includes the town of Washington, told lawmakers most of the $1.3 million came from highway users driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit.

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