- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

UPDATED:

Organizers of a petition to put speed cameras in Maryland to a public vote failed to overcome their first bureaucratic hurdle after working furiously over the weekend to collect the necessary signatures before a midnight Sunday deadline, dooming the effort.

Volunteers for the grass-roots group Maryland for Responsible Enforcement, which is circulating the petition, were required to collect 53,000 signatures by June 30. A third of those signatures had to be turned in to the Maryland Secretary of State’s Office on Sunday night.

As of late Sunday night, the group said, it had collected roughly 16,000 signatures, well below the 17,883 needed to meet the first deadline.

Over the weekend, the group sent at least 50 volunteers to Metro stops, grocery stores and community events to bring supporters to their cause.

“Unfortunately, today was not a bright day for the citizens of Maryland,” group founder Daniel Zubairi said Sunday. “Over the past few weeks many Marylanders have expressed their utter disdain: ranging from anger over it being another tax to concern over an increased big-brother 1984 police state.”

The petition is aimed at repealing by a referendum vote on next year’s ballot the recently enacted law that authorizes automated enforcement statewide. The law, which narrowly survived passage by the Maryland General Assembly in April, would allow speed cameras to be implemented at highway work zones and within a half-mile of schools across the state. Violators who speed at least 12 mph over the posted limit in camera-monitored zones would face a $40 citation.

Proponents say the cameras would deter speeders and save lives. Opponents say they violate privacy rights and are nothing more than a source of income for cash-strapped local governments.

“There’s no due process; it’s you versus a machine,” said Justin Shuy, a resident of Olney and the group’s executive director. “It’s nothing more than a tax on drivers.”

Mr. Shuy said the group is not giving up the fight to ban speed cameras. He said members are prepared to attack the issue in local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County, where speed cameras have been legal since 2007.

“We’re not giving up quite yet,” he said. “The statewide effort may have been a bust, but we’re going through our options to try and rid the state of cameras starting with localities.”

Mr. Zubairi said that the petitions failed largely because the group did not have enough time to collect the signatures needed to meet strict state laws.

“Maryland is one of the hardest if not the hardest states in the union to pass a referendum,” he said. “Sadly, this results in so many Marylanders being denied a voice in their government by not being able to hold their elected officials responsible for questionable and unpopular policy.”

Mary Wagner, director of voter registration and petitions at the state Board of Elections, said the board must count and verify the initial signatures a process that would have taken until at least June 20.

Maryland law requires an exact match of each signature to voter-registration records.

State officials say the cameras have reduced speeding and saved countless lives on the road, while raising badly needed revenue for localities.

Montgomery County has had speed cameras in place near schools and in residential areas since 2007, and has netted about $23.9 million in citations. About half of that revenue goes to the county to finance public-safety initiatives.

County officials say the devices have resulted in a 63 percent decrease in fatal accidents across the county. That is compared with a 17 percent increase in nearby Howard County, as well as a 57 percent increase in Virginia’s Fairfax County. Neither has speed cameras.

“They’ve made a profound impact on driver behavior, and that’s our goal,” said Capt. John Damskey of the Montgomery County Police Department. “A 63 percent decrease is a stat you can’t ignore,” he said.

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