The Tennessee General Assembly, which in past sessions has endorsed the use of speed cameras and red light cameras, is preparing once more to either expand or restrict their use. Bills introduced earlier this month provide the foundation for action that frequently takes a different turn after committee consideration.
Lobbyists for municipalities that use automated ticketing machines have a strong hold over the General Assembly and its committees. In 2008, municipalities joined forces with the camera industry to push through a measure authorizing photo ticketing. To deal with vocal opponents to the idea, then-state Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) drafted the bill in such a way that its wording appeared to be a ban on cameras. Similarly, attempts at placing limitations on camera use last year were watered down in the committee process to the point where the remaining “limits” merely reflected existing practices.
November’s elections, however, brought new members to the legislature. State Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) has replaced Burchett who was elected mayor of Knox County. Campfield takes a dimmer view on the use of automated enforcement, referring to the devices on his blog as “revenue cameras.” His legislation, Senate Bill 54, would strike at Burchett by denying his jurisdiction, and only his jurisdiction, of the ability to issue right-turn tickets with cameras. This type of citation is the primary source of income for photo ticketing systems in the area. State Representative Ryan A. Haynes (R-Knoxville) added his own loophole-free proposal to ban speed cameras.
“No traffic citation for a violation of a speed limit… may be issued that is based solely upon evidence obtained from a traffic surveillance camera for the enforcement or monitoring of traffic violations,” House Bill 61 states. “This act shall take effect July 1, 2011, the public welfare requiring it.”
Other proposals are more favorable to camera use. State Representative John Ragan (R-Anderson County) introduced a measure directing 95 percent of revenue from red light camera and speed camera systems into the educational fund of the municipal budget. This shift in funding mechanisms would result in no net change in income for a municipality that chooses to use cameras. Haynes also introduced House Bill 64 which would allow drivers to yield when making a right turn on red anywhere in the state.