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Some Illinois Lawmakers Push For Red-Light Camera Ban; Watchdog Group Advises Reforms Instead

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Red-light cameras, and one company, have become ensnarled in the latest scandal out of Springfield.

Now, several lawmakers are renewing their push to ban such cameras statewide. But CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov found out Thursday that not all agree doing so is the best idea – including those pushing for reform.

Critics hate red-light cameras, of course. But backers say they make roads safer. And drivers can't avoid them.

But after former state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from red-light camera company SafeSpeed, LLC, some lawmakers are trying again to have the brakes put on the cameras statewide.

Northwest suburban state Rep. Dave McSweeney (R-Cary) passed a bill out of committee this week that would ban cameras in non-home-rule towns and cities.

He said it is the same bill that none other than Sen. Sandoval admitted to killing five years ago.

Meanwhile, state San. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) wants the cameras gone – period.

But one watchdog group thinks it may be an overreaction.

"You shouldn't necessarily throw out the baby with the bathwater," said David Melton, interim director of the group Reform for Illinois.

Instead, Melton said, each city should do a camera study safety. Red-light camera vendors should be barred from making commissions from fines, and lawmakers and lobbyists should be banned from accepting any money from red-light camera companies like SafeSpeed.

"They should still have that option, but we should have the protections to make sure there's no bribes; there's no kickbacks; there's no commissions being paid – none of that kind of thing," Melton said.

A SafeSpeed representative has denied that executives had any knowledge or authorized any payments to Sandoval. But public records showed SafeSpeed has donated to dozens of Illinois lawmakers.

Others than Sandoval, some of its largest donations include $9,500 to Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-5th), $7,500 to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, $7,500 to state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), and $5,000 to Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx.

Kozlov asked Melton whether a lawmaker should return money from red-light camera companies if they've received a significant amount.

"That's a decision that I think each politician has to make for themselves," Melton said.

Durkin and Foxx's representatives said they gave their SafeSpeed donations to charity. Preckwinkle released a statement late Thursday afternoon saying she would be doing the same.

"In light of the allegations of corruption surrounding SafeSpeed owner, Omar Maani, I'm going to donate the $7,500 in contributions made to my campaigns over the years to three community organizations--South Shore Drill Team, Black Ensemble Theater and Matthew House. At the time these contributions were made there was no federal investigation or allegation of wrongdoing by the company."

Kozlov had not confirmed late Thursday what Sims did with her donation.

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