By REGINA GARCIA CANO
Law enforcement authorities across Ohio would not be able to use cameras to determine whether drivers have run red lights or driven over the speed limit under a measure endorsed Wednesday by members of the state’s House.
Lawmakers approved the measure by a 61-32 vote. Supporters touted it as a way to eliminate the abuse of the cameras that some municipalities have seen.
Local governments have installed cameras with the purpose of swelling their coffers through ticket fines, but not to increase public safety, said the sponsor of the measure, Lebanon Republican Rep. Ron Maag.
“It is unacceptable to allow these cameras to pry on citizens this way,” Maag said.
Critics of the ban said the cameras prevent accidents and save lives.
“What are we trying to do in jeopardizing and eliminating safety because we are so worried about traffic tickets?” said Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown.
A common pleas judge in March invalidated an ordinance in Elmwood Place, a Cincinnati suburb, criticizing the cameras and the thousands of $105 citations that resulted from their installation.
“Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of three-card monty,” Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman wrote in his decision. “It is a scam the motorist cannot win.”
He ruled that the tickets violate motorists’ constitutional rights to due process and said the village’s enforcement was stacked against drivers. The village began using the cameras in September, resulting in some 6,600 speeding citations in the first month, triple the number of village residents. Revenues that are shared with the company that operates the cameras quickly topped $1 million.
The proposed legislation includes an exemption for school zones, where cameras would be allowed to operate during school recess, opening and closing hours provided that a police officer is present.
Several leaders of law enforcement organizations testified against the proposal Tuesday before a committee that analyzed the bill. They acknowledged that cameras do generate revenue for their localities. They said, however, that the money in some cases is used by the departments to purchase equipment, implement new programs or hire more officers.
More than a dozen Ohio cities use traffic-enforcement cameras. Some were installed to detect motorists who run lights, and others to track speed. In some cities, the cameras have both functions.
Local governments and the companies that set up the cameras split the revenue from the tickets. The 40 cameras set in 38 intersections in Columbus yielded the city $2 million last year, according to the city’s police department. Cleveland collected nearly $6 million during the same period.
Backers of the measure also fiercely criticized on Wednesday the inequality created by the way camera-generated tickets are processed. Unlike tickets written by police officers, camera-issued tickets are not criminal offenses, do not count against a person’s driving record and are not reported to a driver’s insurance company.
The House’s approval moved the bill to the state’s Senate for further discussion.