Backroom dealing will determine whether speed camera use will become common in Missouri. The General Assembly yesterday agreed to convene a conference committee to iron out differences between House and Senate-passed versions of an omnibus transportation bill that cleared the state Senate on Tuesday. Among the the items up for debate is language that would allow any governmental jurisdiction to set up as many photo radar units as it pleases without any meaningful limitations on use.
“A county, city, town, village, municipality, state agency, or other political subdivision shall only employ the use of automated speed enforcement systems to enforce speeding violations in a school zone, construction zone, work zone, or a MoDOT-Designated Travel Safe Zone,” Senate Amendment No. 11 to House Bill 430 stated.
State Senator Tim Green (D-St. Louis) snuck the legislation through the process by dressing up authorization language in the guise of a “limitation” on photo enforcement. Yet the effect of the language is to give a green light to municipalities to install an unlimited number of speed cameras on any road so long as it has a sign designating it as a “work zone” or a “school zone.” In Maryland, the definition of a school zone is so loose that nearly every road in the state is swept into a school zone, even if the road does not actually connect to a school.
It is no accident that Green’s language would favor the operations of companies like American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Show Me state’s primary speed camera vendor. In fact, ATS cut Green a $1000 campaign check on October 7. In addition, registered ATS lobbyist William A. Gamble took Green out for free meals on January 12, February 7, February 10, March 10, March 15 and March 17. ATS lobbyist Terry Schlemeier did the same on January 26, February 8, February 15, March 29, according to state ethics records. Lobbyists stand to gain handsomely for encouraging expansion for ATS. As first reported by the Riverfront Times, ATS lobbyists in 2005 were promised a cut of every ticket issued as a reward for establishing cameras in the state. Jay Morris Specter, later imprisoned for fraud, was promised a six percent cut of the ATS proceeds. Super-lobbyist Joyce Aboussie was promised a 3.2 percent share.
Expanding automated ticketing machines in the state is so important to ATS that it has retained a total of eleven lobbyists in Jefferson City in an attempt to convince the legislature to give its approval to the idea of mailing tickets based on photographic evidence. As no such state law exists, systems around the state are highly vulnerable to court challenge. Last year, the state supreme court struck down Springfield’s photo ticketing as illegal, while hinting in footnotes that the justices might look favorably on a broader legal challenge (view opinion).
Once the conference committee reaches an agreement on whether to keep the speed camera provision or not, the entire transportation bill would come up for a final vote under expedited procedures.