4/22/2009Montana: Red Light Camera Ban Heads to Governor
Montana legislature gives final passage to legislation that will ban all red light cameras from the state.
A veto-proof majority of the Montana Legislature decided yesterday to drive red light cameras out of the state. By a 33-17 vote in the Senate and a 75-25 vote in the House, lawmakers approved a measure introduced by state Representative Bill Nooney (R-Missoula) to prohibit the use of "automated enforcement systems," including systems already installed in the city of Bozeman. The ban will take effect upon the signature of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D).
Legislators went back and forth on the question of whether to pull the plug on existing photo ticketing programs. Out of a sense of fairness, state Senator John Brueggeman (R-Polson) convinced the Senate in March to allow cities to continue issuing citations if they had entered into a binding legal contract to operate red light camera programs. Yet subsequent actions by the cities of Bozeman and Billings generated so much outrage among previously sympathetic lawmakers that a conference committee stripped the grandfather provision on a 6-1 vote.
"The committee saw fit, and I think rightly so, to remove the savings clause," Brueggeman said on Monday. "We saw a couple municipalities rush to get contracts signed before the effective date of the bill -- which I found offensive. The one municipality that pursued a contract said that they were going to shorten the time of yellow lights at intersections... So I think it's time as Montanans to simply say: enough, we're not going to have red light cameras in this state."
Legislators obtained copies of the agreement between Bozeman and Australia's Redflex Traffic Systems and discovered, contrary to municipal assertions, that Bozeman would not actually face any penalties upon the ban's enactment.
"When I read the contract I was even more more opposed," state Representative Deborah Kottel (D-Great Falls) said. "This is entrepreneurial criminal justice... The city of Bozeman agrees to prosecute every ticket. They've relinquished prosecutorial discretion to feed the company's greed... Good law enforcement is about safety, it's about education. What this company is about is generating revenue."
A handful of members still stood by the principle of allowing cities to operate automated ticketing machines.
"I can't let this go," state Senator Jesse Laslovich (D-Anaconda) said. "Not one person thus far has talked about local control. Not one. Well, maybe one -- I wasn't listening, Mr Chairman... I don't think this is snooping. It's the law. You can't run a red light. What are we afraid of here?"
Senator Brueggeman explained that he feared cities like Billings were jeopardizing safety by shortening yellow times, as a city memo suggested was under consideration (view memo). Citing data from the Texas Transportation Institute (view study), he suggested interest in proposing a legislative alternative to increase intersection safety.
"If safety is your fundamental concern, red light cameras could have an impact," Brueggeman said. "But the largest impact right off the bat is lengthening the yellow light. In the research available, it reduces accidents somewhere in the range of forty percent, whereas if you shorten the yellow lights, which was proposed -- if you read the article -- in Billings, it actually increases traffic accidents at intersections upwards of 150 to 200 percent... The problem with red light cameras is that it is a perverse incentive to increase the safety hazard by shortening the yellow light to collect more revenue. Perhaps I'll bring a bill next session to require standardization of yellow lights at a time frame proven to reduce intersection accidents."
Upon enactment, Montana will join the state of Mississippi where a photo enforcement ban was signed into law last month. Alaska, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin have also banned automated citations through judicial or legislative action.
A copy of the final version of the legislation is available in a 25k PDF file at the source link below.