Ohio Legislature approves new rules on ticket cameras

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Ohio Legislature has approved a bill that is touted to severely limit the ability of police to issue automated tickets.

Twelve states prohibit the use of speed cameras and nine states prohibit the use of red-light cameras, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. Twelve states use speed cameras operating in at least one location while 24 states use red-light cameras.

Also, a Texas bill filed for the 2015 regular session would ban the use of all ticket cameras.

The Ohio House voted 55-35 to endorse a bill that would put in place strict rules on the use of red-light and speed cameras throughout the state. Senate lawmakers voted the following day to concur with House changes, thus clearing the way for the bill to move to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for his expected signature.

Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, has said changes are needed to address an enforcement tool that is “all about the money.”

His bill would require police officers to be present at red-light and speed camera sites to witness violations. However, tickets could still be mailed to violators as long as an officer was at the scene to witness the violation.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, acknowledged that the bill is not a complete ban on the use of ticket cameras. He described it as “the next best thing.”

“It accomplishes many of the same objectives (as a complete ban.) It prevents cities from scamming motorists under the guise of safety,” Maag said.

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, about 250 ticket cameras are in use by at least 14 municipalities throughout the state. The annual expense to station officers at each location is estimated to be $73 million.

Opponents say the bill’s passage will be the death knell for ticketing programs. They say the expense of paying to have officers at each camera location would undermine the cameras’ cost-effectiveness.

Rep. John Carney, D-Columbus, acknowledged there are communities around the state that use the technology to “play gotcha” with drivers. However, he said the cameras do improve safety, and lawmakers would be better served to work something out to set “appropriate regulations.”

“This is an attempt to outright ban red-light cameras … and it doesn’t make sense,” Carney said.

Automated ticketing has faced a lot of pushback in Ohio in recent years. In November, voters in the city of Cleveland and its suburb of Maple Heights approved ballot questions that mirror the bill’s requirement for police officers to be on the scene to hand out citations.

Seven other Ohio locales previously acted to outlaw use of the enforcement tool. Cities that have taken action are Cincinnati, Ashtabula, Chillicothe, Garfield Heights, Heath, Steubenville and South Euclid.

“It’s time for us to act,” Maag said. “The outcry from citizens who feel their rights have been violated is constant and increasing.”

One provision added to the bill preserves the right for public votes on whether to prohibit the use of red light and speed cameras.

Once signed into law, SB342 would take effect in 90 days.

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