1/26/2017Missouri Appeals Court Slams Attempt To Stop Anti-Red Light Camera Referendum
Appellate court upholds the right of Missouri voters to use ballot initiatives to outlaw the use of automated ticketing machines.
The people of Missouri have every right to use the referendum process to ban red light cameras. That was the unanimous conclusion Tuesday of a state Court of Appeals panel that upheld the validity of a 2014 St. Charles County charter amendment outlawing automated ticketing machines with the approval of 73 percent of voters.
Politicians in St. Peters, Lake St. Louis and O'Fallon launched a lawsuit seeking to have the vote nullified at the urging of Redflex Traffic Systems. This photo ticketing vendor has been caught in a corruption scandal not only in Illinois and Ohio, but also in Missouri. In 2008, the mayor of St. Peters served a year in prison for soliciting a bribe from the Australian camera firm.
City officials insisted the charter amendment was unlawful because municipalities have the full authority to regulate their own streets. The appellate panel disagreed.
"Even were we to construe the cited statutes to grant cities exclusive authority over regulation of traffic on city streets, the referenced statutes do not grant exclusive control over all matters related to regulation of traffic enforcement mechanisms on city streets, which is a critical distinction," Judge Lawrence E. Mooney wrote for the court. "The charter amendment here does not seek to regulate traffic on city streets, but addresses how the regulations may be enforced."
St. Charles County's ballot measure prohibited the use of cameras to enforce traffic regulations. The court did not see that as affecting traffic directly, as it would if the measure had set speed limits or restricted traffic flow or parking. The court noted that the General Assembly has never enacted any statute authorizing the use of red light cameras, so a local ballot measure could not conflict with statewide policy. The county government, the court ruled, had every right to come up with a countywide alternative.
"If each city could fashion its own use of red light cameras, the unwary driver might confront a patchwork of diverse red light camera practices," Judge Mooney wrote. "A driver passing from city to city would never know what he or she might confront without researching multiple municipal red light camera ordinances. To this end, the voters of St. Charles County have a broader interest in protecting the welfare of the traveling public than do the legislative bodies of the individual municipalities within the county."
The cities also argued that the charter amendment violated the separation of powers by telling the courts what sorts of evidence would be admissible or not. The appellate panel pointed out the hypocrisy of that position, since red light camera programs cannot operate without changing the rules of evidence.
"The fancier of ironies may recall that red light ordinances have been criticized for creating an unjustifiable inference that the registered owner is the driver of the offending vehicle," Judge Mooney noted.
After dispensing with all of the arguments against the ballot measure, the court upheld the election results by declaring the camera ban a constitutional exercise of the county's power.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 1.6mb PDF file at the source link below.