6/10/2011South Carolina: Renegade Photo Speed Trap in Jeopardy
Ridgeland, South Carolina backs off speed camera program in face of near-certain legislative action.
Reports from residents suggest Ridgeland, South Carolina is ready to concede defeat regarding the freeway speed camera system operated in defiance of state law. The large recreational vehicle used to mail tickets to travelers passing through the town's seven-mile stretch of Interstate 95 is no longer as visible as it once was. Under attack in both the state legislature and the courts, Mayor Gary W. Hodges has yet to officially announce the end of his controversial ticketing program.
The state House last week voted 92-0 to approve Senate Bill 336, which reaffirms the ban on automated ticketing machines that was enacted one year ago (view law). The bill had previously passed the Senate 40-0 in March, but because House members added an amendment, the measure returned for a final Senate vote. There, state Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) introduced another amendment designed to knock the bill off the consent calendar and run out the clock on the last day of session. Sheheen is the recipient of $1000 in campaign donations from iTraffic, the company that runs Ridgeland's camera program.
Despite the setback, the legislature returns in a special session Tuesday where the ban's Senate proponents will attempt final passage. Even if that fails, camera opponents will almost certainly hit Ridgeland in the wallet. The current version of the state budget bill includes language that would effectively confiscate any revenue generated by Ridgeland's camera system. The budget will come to a final vote next week.
"Speed Camera Restriction: No political subdivision of this state shall collect any fines, fees or costs which result from the issuance of uniform traffic citations or any other form of traffic citation that is based or has relied on camera assisted evidence," section 86.10 of H. 3700 states. "Any municipality which fails to comply with this provision during the Fiscal Year 2011-12 shall have its Fiscal Year 2011-12 distribution from the Local Government Fund under the State Aid to Subdivisions Act reduced by an amount equal to the amount of fines, fees or costs collected by the political subdivision through the issuance of camera assisted traffic citations."
On May 27, attorney Pete Strom renewed his class action legal assault on Ridgeland with a revised filing meant to address deficiencies identified by US District Court Judge Sol Blatt. Strom renewed the charge that Ridgeland and iTraffic were engaged in racketeering.
"Defendants conspired to attempt to serve alleged violators of the municipal ordinance by direct mail and outside of their respective jurisdiction," Strom wrote. "In furtherance of the conspiracy, defendants committed numerous predicate acts, including but not limited to mail fraud and wire fraud. As such, Defendants have violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act."
The case is ongoing.