3/5/2019Proposed Texas Red Light Camera Ban Gains Momentum
Red light camera ban could pass Texas House with veto-proof majority.
Texans opposed to red light cameras have been let down by lawmakers in the past. This time is different, state Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) said last week after announcing he had secured a veto-proof, bipartisan majority in favor of his plan to outlaw photo ticketing in the Lone Star State.
"Obtaining these coauthors is an important first step at finally banning these intrusive and unconstitutional cameras across the state and fulfilling a demand of the people," Stickland explained. "Needing only 76 votes to pass a bill out of the chamber, 102 joint and coauthors virtually guarantees HB1631's passage through the House."
Stickland does not need to worry about a veto since Governor Greg Abbott (R) campaigned on an unconditional end to the use of red light cameras. Abbott justified his stance by pointing to studies showing intersection ticketing cameras do not actually reduce accidents (view studies). It is slightly less clear whether a ban can pass the state Senate. After introducing a "ban" bill that would have actually increased the use of automated ticketing machines, state Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) reversed course and introduced Senate Bill 653 as a loophole-free companion to the House ban.
"Notwithstanding any other law, a local authority may not implement or operate a photographic traffic signal enforcement system with respect to a highway or street under the jurisdiction of the authority," House Bill 1631 and Senate Bill 653 state. "The attorney general shall enforce this section."
The effort to stop the Senate from passing a true ban will be significant. Texas is one of the automated ticketing industry's most profitable markets. As a result, Verra Mobility (formerly American Traffic Solutions) and Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia have dispatched an army of lobbyists to Austin to ensure the cameras' survival. Such investments have always paid off in the past, as close family ties were exploited to sabotage ban efforts in 2017, 2015, 2009, 2007 and 2005. Lobbyists were also key to introducing cameras to the state in the first place. The original proponent of cameras, then-state Representative Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving), snuck a one-sentence provision authorizing cameras into an unrelated bill in 2003. She and her husband were later given a 2010 Mercedes E550 sedan worth $55,000 by a red light camera equipment provider. The Texas Ethics Commission fined her $2000 in 2012.
In the 2019 session, red light camera advocates are hoping to add a "grandfather clause" to the legislation if past efforts are a reliable guide. This provision, if adopted, allows cities to continue issuing red light camera citations until their contracts with private ticketing vendors run out. A key feature of the grandfather clause gives the local jurisdictions several months to extend current contracts for as long as desired. When a similar ban was threatened a decade ago, cities locked in new contracts lasting twenty years or more. This would guarantee that no red light cameras would actually be taken down until the year 2040. Local jurisdictions looking to save their camera programs are being organized by the Traffic Safety Coalition, a front group run by Redflex that was implicated in the the red light camera bribery scandal in Chicago, Illinois.
Unwilling to wait on the legislature, voters in Conroe, Dayton, Houston, Baytown, League City, Arlington and College Station took matters into their own hands and used the initiative process to kick red light cameras out of their own communities. Nationwide, voters have also overwhelmingly opposed the use of cameras at the ballot box (view list of votes).