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House Throttles Back On Red-Light Camera Bill

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - The key House proponent of eliminating red-light cameras ended his effort Monday to prohibit the installation of new cameras across the state.

However, a senator seeking to ban the traffic-enforcement technology isn't ready to put the brakes on his bill.

Members of the House Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved an amendment by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, as they backed his measure (HB 7005). The bill now would allow new cameras at intersections but only if their use is justified through traffic engineering studies.

Meanwhile, Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he intends to keep the Senate "on our current path" to repeal the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010, the state's red-light camera law.

"I think ultimately what is going to happen is that the House is going to do what they're going to do, and the Senate is going to come up with its own plan," Brandes said after the House subcommittee voted. "And I think we will then enter into negotiations about what the overall policy of the Legislature will be."

Brandes added that he may eventually have to make some concessions to other senators to get the measure to the floor.

Artiles' amendment also would mandate that 70 percent of the local government revenue from the cameras go into safety measures and would require jurisdictions to shut off their cameras if they fail to provide annual camera-enforcement reports to the state.

"I just want to do something substantive that is going to help Floridians this year," Artiles said.

In early February, Artiles and Brandes held a press conference in the Capitol to highlight a report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, the Legislature's non-partisan policy office. The report found there were fewer fatalities but more crashes at electronically monitored intersections and that fines issued due to the technology cost motorists nearly $119 million last year.

Artiles said the state study didn't provide a full picture of the impact of the cameras because numbers were not available from every area that uses the technology.

The Senate measure (SB 144) by Brandes, who contends the law hasn't improved safety and that local governments are using the program to fuel their budgets, is expected to go before the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

Artiles had initially proposed that the state ban new red-light cameras while reducing the fine from $158 to $83, eliminating the money local governments could collect.

South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters, while voting for the measure, questioned the state mandating how local governments could spend revenue from the cameras, noting state lawmakers decry whenever the federal government imposes such requirements on Florida.

But Artiles said the outcry from local governments over his initial proposal to eliminate the money demonstrated that the issue is strictly about money.

"It's about revenue, it's not about safety," Artiles said. "What good is it for cities and counties and the state to collect this revenue and not implement it for safety purposes?"

Safety measure could range from adding LED lighting in traffic signals, extending yellow-light times in the signals and even hiring additional law enforcement, Artiles said.

Across Florida, at least 77 county and city governments operate red-light camera programs. However, some governments have been revisiting the cameras. For example, the St. Petersburg City Council has decided to end its program by the end of September.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.

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