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Louisana House Committee Approves Automated Freeway Speed Traps
Louisiana House committee adopts a bait-and-switch bill that authorizes freeway speed cameras in construction zones.

Michael E. Danahay
Louisiana lawmakers took on speed traps, both of the conventional and automated variety, on Monday. The state House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee unanimously approved two measures, one that would discourage small town police officers from hiding behind bushes with radar or laser guns, and another that would authorize the use of speed cameras in freeway "construction zones."

The committee expressed extreme displeasure at the way small towns in Louisiana have been shaking down drivers in approving a bill forcing any town that makes more than half of its revenue from traffic citations to post a warning sign at the city limits. Failure to put up a sign would allow the state auditor and attorney general to confiscate the town's ticket revenue (PDF File view bill, 20k PDF).

"If the whole purpose is to provide public safety and slow down traffic going through this town, then having a sign that says 'Speed Trap Ahead' will make the motoring public aware," the bill's sponsor, state Representative Steve E. Pylant (R-Winnsboro) explained. "If somebody sees the sign with blinking lights on it, surely they're going to slow down. I'm opposed to them funding a town off of ticket writing."

The mood of opposition to speed traps carried over to the topic of photo enforcement. Lawmakers were asked to vote on a bill that was supposed to prohibit the use of speed cameras on freeways, but the text of the legislation would have the opposite of the stated effect. There are no freeway cameras in Louisiana, so the bill would not shut down any existing ticketing operation. Instead, it creates a new opportunity to use them for any jurisdiction that puts orange cones on the side of an interstate highway to designate a "construction zone" where the bill allows speed cameras to lawfully issue tickets.

"Local municipal authorities or local parish authorities shall not install or utilize automated speed enforcement devices to regulate traffic on interstate roadways within their corporate or territorial limits," House Bill 896 states. "The provisions of this Section shall not apply to highway construction zones where construction workers are present."

The same legislative bait-and-switch technique was used to authorize photo enforcement in the state of Tennessee. There, lawmakers thought they were merely voting to ban the issuance of license points on photo tickets, but both the state attorney general (view opinion) and Tennessee Court of Appeals (view ruling) determined that the mention of the automated ticketing programs in the statute constituted a legislative blessing.

The Louisiana bill's sponsor, state Representative Michael E. Danahay (D-Sulphur), never mentioned the construction zone provision in his committee testimony Monday. Committee members were encouraged to support the bill as a ban on highway photo radar.

"As for the idea of placing automated speed enforcement devices on the highway in the name of public safety, this is without a doubt about generating revenue," Danahay said. "In a trial run, one of these devices was used on Interstate 10 here in Baton Rouge, and 86 tickets were issued in 41 minutes. That constitutes over 2 violations per minute."

Danahay calculated that was equivalent to generating $12,000 in revenue per hour. Over the course of a year, it could generate $5 million per year.

"With this legislation we can prevent these devices from proliferating on our interstate highway system," Danahay said.

In Danahay's home town of Sulphur, 86 percent of residents voted to ban all forms of red light cameras and speed cameras in 2009.

A copy of House Bill 896 is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File House Bill 896 (Louisiana Legislature, 3/24/2014)

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