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Published: Friday, 6/6/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Bill to regulate traffic cameras’ use put on hold

Ohio Supreme Court to hear case debating system’s merit


COLUMBUS — Notable in the flurry of bills driven to Gov. John Kasich’s desk this week was one the Ohio Senate decided to keep in park for the summer — restrictions on traffic cameras used by cites such as Toledo.

But a bill to either regulate or all but ban the use of the controversial cameras to enforce red lights and speed limits will probably move when lawmakers return this fall.

Meanwhile, eyes will turn to a case to be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday that could decide the fate of Toledo’s program and similar programs in cities such as Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton.

“A majority of our caucus believes there needs to be serious regulation on the traffic camera issues,” Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said.

The Senate expects to return to Columbus in late September.

“I have not seen a ban bill,” Mr. Faber said. “I have seen a regulation bill. The question is, what is the level of regulation?”

He considers Senate Bill 342, recently introduced by Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), to be a “regulation” bill, although the cities contend it would amount to a practical ban. The bill would allow the cameras’ continued use, but only if a police officer is present to personally witness a violation.

“There is a method where they can continue it,” Mr. Faber said. “It probably isn’t fiscally achievable for them, but I believe most Ohioans have serious concerns about traffic cameras. I think there are traffic cameras that are used in certain circumstances that are very effective and efficient.

“However, I don’t think the public has the confidence and trust that they’re there for safety and not revenue generation.”

Keeping the Senate bill company this summer is House Bill 69 — sponsored by Reps. Ron Maag (R., Lebanon) and Dale Mallory (D., Cincinnati) — which passed the House 61-32 a year ago. It would outright ban photo enforcement of red lights and allow its use for speed enforcement only in 20 mph school zones — only when a police officer is present.

Supporters of the cameras have offered amendments to save the cameras by imposing statewide regulations in an attempt to get at abuses such as those seen in the suburban Cincinnati village of Elmwood Place, calling it a “scam that the motorists can’t win.”

Advocates counter that the cameras have reduced serious accidents and have freed police officers to concentrate on other programs.

“The reason we have cameras there is so we can put officers where they’re needed more — for investigations, accidents, and patrols in neighborhoods that aren't as safe,” said Ed Albright, lobbyist for the Ohio Municipal League.

“People have been told, and they’re starting to believe that we only put cameras in to make money. ... We only put them where they’re needed. Some [communities] have taken cameras down because the people are obeying the law.”

Programs differ from city to city, but stop-light and speed violations captured by the cameras are generally treated as civil violations that carry fines that are split between the city and the cameras’ private operators. Unlike criminal citations, points are not levied against drivers licenses, and violations are not reported to insurers.

The case to be heard by the Supreme Court was filed by a Kentucky man who, among other things, challenges Toledo’s use of an administrative appeals process in which vehicle owners may challenge citations instead of Toledo Municipal Court.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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