By on January 14, 2010

A Pyhrric victory?

The Tennessee House Transportation Committee yesterday drafted a legislative proposal that will solidify the legal standing for the use of both speed cameras and red light cameras in the state. After a lengthy markup process, committee members approved a two-year moratorium on new cameras while ensuring that there is no disruption in ticketing for cities like Chattanooga, Clarksville, Jonesborough and Knoxville that already have programs in place. In 2008, the state legislature quietly gave the green light to jurisdictions interested in installing red light cameras and speed cameras, but even the lawmakers most in favor of the use of cameras have been pressured by the public to take some action to reign in their use.

“This is a difficult issue for every one of us,” Representative Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) said. “We’ve got all of our local governments who want to do this, but if you put it on the ballot and you’d get blown out of the water with it.”

One representative calculated that 85 percent of the public was against cameras, and photo enforcement’s primary legislative advocate, Vice Chairman Vince Dean (R-East Ridge), agreed.

“As has been stated, the public don’t like these [cameras],” Dean said.

Over the past few months, city officials have mounted an unprecedented lobbying campaign to convince lawmakers to side with them over their constituents. The Transportation Committee devoted the vast majority of its time listening to these officials, giving far more limited and unfavorable time slots to just two members of the public to speak. As a result, the committee will impose no restrictions whatsoever on cities with existing photo enforcement contracts. A temporary moratorium would prevent new cities or counties from starting new programs, but there is no penalty for jurisdictions that rush to sign a contract before the proposal is signed into law, as several Texas cities did last year. Local jurisdictions — with the special exception for the lucrative “S-Curve” cameras in Hamilton County — would not be able to renew their contracts. Dean’s introduction of the S-Curve exemption raised some controversy.

“This reeks of Nebraska coming out of the health bill,” Representative Ben West Jr (D-Hermitage) said, explaining his support for the move. “But I’ll second yours and I’ll take that as a commitment that one day you’ll second me concerning Nashville.”

The proposed bill would ask the state comptroller to audit existing camera programs to ensure all money is properly accounted for. Beginning in 2012, the state transportation department would verify that all reasonable engineering solutions have been attempted before the installation of any new automated ticketing machines. Cities would no longer be allowed to charge more than $10 in court fees. Attempts to direct all profit from photo ticketing programs to trauma centers failed as did a move to ban speed cameras on state highways.

Committee staff are expected to finalize the legislative language for a committee vote prior to House action on the measure.

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4 Comments on “Tennessee Legislature Moves to Legitimize Traffic Cameras...”

  • avatar

    The fact that traffic camera use continues to grow despite an overwhelming majority of the population being against them demonstrates the power of money in politics.  This is especially true today when states and municipalities are strapped for cash as property, income and sales tax revenues plunge.

  • avatar

    Tar. Feathers. Apply liberally.

  • avatar
    chitbox dodge

    One little city just outside of Chattanooga called Red Bank, has had local officials in their fiefdom squirming. They have lost a great deal of business (I think something like 20%) through straight out closures and relocations. Of course Red Bank also has traffic camera, traffic photo-vans, and red light cameras. Some red light cameras are even mounted at ambiguous to discern right of ways just to enhance revenue, i.e. yield signs at a red light for right hand turns. 
    Many of the moving businesses sight directly to the city council that their customers tell them it is hard to do business outright because of these factors, so they shop elsewheres.
    So the politicians in their infinite wisdom have a grand scheme to replace the city’s lost revenue from taxes with additional, you guessed it, traffic cameras and a mandated speed limit of 25 mph through all of Red Bank unless otherwise posted.
    Chattanooga is in not much better shape now that they sold the farm to VW. Someone still has to pay for that venture, but wages are so depressed there that no politician could reasonably afford to raise anymore sales tax, property tax, storm water run-off fees, parking fines and still expect to be in local politics. Likewise all the boondoggles from previous planners/mayors/developers have yet to be even close to being paid for. I’m so glad I’m done with the whole county.

  • avatar

    “This is a difficult issue for every one of us,” Representative Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) said.
    What’s difficult about it? You even admit that voters overwhelmingly oppose traffic cameras. If you can’t abide by the voters’ decision, you’re in the wrong line of work.

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