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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2008

Ohio Supreme Court backs red-light cameras

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS In a much anticipated ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court today unanimously upheld the constitutionality of red light and speeding enforcement cameras like those employed by Toledo.

The court found that the cameras are an extension of local police powers and do not overstep local home-rule authority by civilly targeting vehicle owners rather than pursuing drivers criminally as state traffic laws do. The challenge was brought against the city of Akron, whose program is similar to those operated in other Ohio communities, including Toledo, Northwood, Sylvania Township, Columbus, and Cleveland.

Ultimately regardless of the actor who performs it, the actual conduct prohibited exceeding speed limits is the same, wrote Justice Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo. When a municipal ordinance does nothing more than prohibit the same conduct prohibited by state statute, there is no conflict between the two.

Kelly Mendenhall, whose car was captured speeding by a school-zone camera, had challenged the constitutionality of issuing civil fines for what would be a criminal violation if personally witnessed by a police officer. She had also questioned the practice of issuing the fines against the owner of vehicle whose license plate is digitally captured rather than the driver as is usually the case with other traffic violations.

Mrs. Mendenhall beat her ticket on a signage technicality, but that didn t stop her from challenging the constitutionality of the right-light program.

Toledo was the first Ohio city to install red-light cameras six years ago and the number of cameras and targeted intersections has expanded since. The city also uses fixed and portable cameras for speeding violations at some intersections and school zones.

Critics of the programs in the General Assembly have accused cities of using the cameras as revenue-generators. A bill that would have restricted their use was vetoed early last year by then Gov. Bob Taft as an infringement on local home-rule authority. A new bill has since been introduced that would address signage requirements for such cameras.

Toledo keeps 25 percent of each $95 fine collected. The rest goes to the cameras operator, Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, a subsidiary of an Australian company. City council has talked about raising the amount of fines and keeping a larger share of what is collected.

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



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