- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Legislative efforts to do away with red-light cameras appear to be dead, but lawmakers concerned about the potential abuse of electronic law enforcement have managed to thwart attempts to expand the use of speed cameras.
Opponents of speed cameras have repeatedly delayed a vote on a bill that would mandate a $100 ticket for each speeding offense caught on tape, and a host of amendments will further slow its progress as the clock runs out on the legislative session.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the Eastern Shore Republican at the forefront of the opposition, today is expected to lead a lengthy debate on the Senate floor as he dissects the legislation.
"It is going to be very difficult to get it moved [to a vote] and get it to the governor's desk this session," said speed-camera supporter Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, Anne Arundel County Democrat and member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which recommended the bill's passage.
The bill has already undergone extensive revisions in committee, such as banning police cameras from highways.
The most recent draft of the bill would enable local jurisdictions to adopt speed-camera laws, but restricts their use to school zones and residential districts, though residential districts could be broadly interpreted as anywhere except highways.
The bill also stipulates that unmanned cameras could not be placed within 100 feet of the bottom of a hill or a change in speed limit. Public notice of camera locations would have to be published in localnewspapers, and signs identifying the locations would have to be posted on affected streets.
Advocates for the cameras say speeding near schools and in residential settings is a top constituent concern, and cameras and tickets will enhance safety by deterring speeding. Detractors argue the cameras do little but raise revenue for local governments and extend government intrusion.
"You start with red-light cameras, then you have speed cameras. Where does it stop with the government using cameras?" asked Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Western Maryland Republican. "The longer we delay, the less chance it has of passage, so I'm happy to delay it again."
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, conceded the measure faced "stiff opposition," but he said it would survive because the "counties have the votes," indicating the push for speed cameras by associations representing city and county governments.
The same associations, the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties, also fought to defeat Mr. Mooney's bill to repeal red-light-camera legislation.
"My concern is safety," Mr. Frosh said. "You pay $100 once; my guess is that you are going to be more cautious. I don't think it takes too many $100 fines to get people the message."
Though Republicans are leading the effort to defeat or at least limit the impact of the bill, the opposition has a significant Democratic element.
The bipartisan nature of the police-camera debate was evident in the backing for Mr. Mooney's bill.
The repeal bill was sponsored by Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat; Sen. George W. Della Jr., Baltimore Democrat; Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Prince George's County Democrat; and Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat.
Among at least 10 anticipated amendments to the speed-camera bill are provisions for a first-offense warning with no fine and the exclusion of some counties, such as Harford and counties on the upper Eastern Shore.
Another amendment would use $25 from each ticket to fund the state's trauma center system, helping dilute the money-making potential and countering a House bill for a $10 surcharge on driver's licenses to fund trauma centers.
"There are a lot of loose ends in the bill that need to be tied up before people feel comfortable with it. In the end, people might not feel comfortable with it at all," said Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican.
Mr. Harris does not plan to vote for the bill regardless of how amendments reshape it. He worries that local government will find a way to profit from the expanded police power, he said.
A bill by Mr. Harris to rein in the use of red-light cameras by standardizing the time intervals for yellow lights passed the Senate last month by a 46-0 vote. House hearings on the bill are scheduled for early next month.
Mr. Harris predicted a "pretty close vote" if the speed-cameras bill gets to that point. "The legislature will be very cautious about putting in another [camera] that will trap citizens with a ticket," he said.

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