COLUMBUS — In a 61-32 vote pitting Big Brother against safety concerns, the Ohio House on Wednesday voted to permanently disconnect red-light cameras across the state and all but ban the use of cameras to catch speeders.
The sole exception would be mobile speed cameras to enforce 20-mph school zones during restricted hours, but even then, the cameras would have to come with police backup.
Those holding civil citations they’ve received by mail because of those cameras shouldn’t think about throwing them away just yet. The Senate will leave for the summer later this week without taking up House Bill 69, putting the debate on hold until autumn at the earliest.
Driving much of the criticism is the speed-camera program run by Elmwood Place, a small village near Cincinnati. The program was decried by a Hamilton County judge as a “scam that the motorists can’t win.”
“Six thousand tickets in 30 days at $105 … with 40 percent of the revenue going to an outside company that is not located in the state of Ohio…,” Rep. Alicia Reece (D., Cincinnati) said. She represents Elmwood Place and a portion of Cincinnati, which rejected the cameras at the polls.
“It has become a money grab,” she said.
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Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), chairman of the House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee, urged his colleagues not to cast what he characterized as a vote against public safety and for local tax increases.
“These lawbreakers are paying, and they’re paying big bucks for breaking the law,” he said. “The city of Toledo, Mayor [Mike] Bell came in and told how important this is to the city of Toledo — not just for public safety.
“They make about $4 million a year,” he said. “If we vote for this bill, we are going to be voting for tax increases for Toledo, because somehow their public safety department is going to be $4 million short. Somehow Toledo is going to have to make that up. And every town in Ohio that has been using this device to control speed is going to make up those deficits.”
The bill was sponsored by Reps. Ron Maag (R., Lebanon) and Dale Mallory (D., Cincinnati), and the vote crossed party lines. Of the northwest Ohio delegation, Reps. Michael Ashford (D., Toledo), Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), Tony Burkley (R., Payne), and Jeff McClain (R., Upper Sandusky) supported the bill.
Joining Mr. Damschroder in opposition were Reps. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), Mike Sheehy (D., Oregon), Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green), and Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island).
Attempts to find some middle ground, standards that the roughly 15 municipalities with camera programs must follow, have come up empty so far.
Most of Ohio’s largest cities have camera programs. Toledo took in nearly $3 million in fines in 2012 and expects $4.2 million this year. Northwood, in Wood County, recently allowed its contract with its camera operator to expire, so that program has gone dark.
In Toledo, citations cost violators $120, of which $90.25 belongs to the city. Toledo last year went from collecting $65 on the $120 fine to collecting the greater amount.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.