The Washington Court of Appeals yesterday delivered a big win to American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the photo enforcement firm that has fought hard to prevent the public from voting on red light cameras and speed cameras. A three-judge panel overturned last month’s decision by Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig that had found the ATS suit was specifically crafted to block public access to the ballot.
The appellate judges sided with ATS, which argued Bellingham residents have no right to decide whether or not automated ticketing machines can be used in their city.
“RCW 46.63.170 specifies that in order to use automatic traffic safety cameras for the issuance of traffic infractions, the ‘appropriate local legislative authority must first enact an ordinance allowing for their use,'” Judge Marlin J. Appelwick wrote for the court. “For more than 70 years, Washington courts have consistently construed similar provisions as the grant of authority to the local legislative body. Initiative No. 2011-01 expressly restricts that authority by conditioning its use on a concurrence by the majority of the voters. The subject matter of the initiative is therefore clearly beyond the scope of the local initiative power. Initiative No. 2011-01 is invalid.”
The ATS victory, however, may prove hollow. The court denied the ATS demand to block the initiative from ballots which will start being printed later today. Because the initiative would have no legal force if approved by voters, ATS could not prove no tangible harm would come from voters enacting the unenforceable measure. In effect, the judges converted the November election item into an advisory vote. Initiative sponsors believe that will ultimately prove to be the end of cameras in Bellingham. No photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote.
“Bottom line, we are thrilled that we’ve successfully prevented the red-light camera company from blocking this citizen initiative from appearing on the November ballot,” Stephen Pidgeon, attorney for the sponsors, said in a written statement. “The voice of Bellingham’s citizens will be heard.”
The precedent set today could also change as a case on the legality of an identical traffic camera referendum in Mukilteo is pending before the Washington Supreme Court.
A copy of the appellate decision is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: ATS v. Bellingham (Court of Appeals, State of Washington, 9/6/2011)