- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia's Republican-led General Assembly is bucking a trend and moving toward eliminating hidden cameras designed to catch red-light runners.
"I hate them," says Delegate John A. Rollison III, Prince William Republican. "Get rid of them."
Mr. Rollison, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, calls them "an outrageous abuse of our constitutional freedom."
In 1995, Virginia's legislature then controlled by Democrats enacted a law allowing several localities in Northern Virginia as well as Virginia Beach and Richmond to impose a 10-year demonstration program of the "photo red" automated traffic-enforcement program.
Each year since, there have been attempts to add more jurisdictions to the list of those participating in the program. There also have been efforts to eliminate the expiration date of the programs in 2005. Republicans, for the most part, have rebuffed those efforts.
This year is no different. Four proposals to expand the program or get rid of the ending date have been killed by the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. Two bills originating from the Senate also are expected to be knocked down by the committee.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, says sentiment against the cameras is growing, predicting a concerted effort toward getting rid of the programs.
Mr. Griffith, a member of the House public safety committee, says he would like to see all camera programs in the state disbanded to "as always, defend liberty."
Even though Virginia's red-light camera programs have not produced the revenue that cameras have in the District of Columbia, the constitutional problem remains, he says, because they carry the presumption of guilt instead of the presumption of innocence.
"When you start punishing people and shifting the burden to them to prove their innocence, you have broken long-standing principles which protect liberty," he says.
Opponents of the cameras include Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, who says automated law enforcement is wrong because a private company is writing the tickets.
Defenders of the red-light cameras say the demonstration programs have been proven to save lives, and they insist they do not infringe a citizen's constitutional rights.
Delegate Michele B. McQuigg became known as the "red-light lady" after she led a spirited campaign to change the law so that any locality could install red-light camera programs.
Unlike some other states, Virginia must give specific permission to cities and towns not on the original list to join the program. Mrs. McQuigg, Prince William Republican, wants to repeal the sunset, or expiration, date for the programs.
Mrs. McQuigg says her legislation sets strict guidelines for localities that have the program. For instance, a law-enforcement office would review each camera-generated ticket before it is mailed.
"We have to be concerned about public safety and the people killed from red-light running as well as the millions of dollars lost in property damage," Mrs. McQuigg says. Critics of the cameras argue that revenue is what makes the cameras attractive to governments, noting that most cities do not impose "points" against drivers caught by the cameras. They say there are other ways to cut speeding and red-light running.
Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, supports Mrs. McQuigg's efforts. She says the cameras have helped lower the number of crashes.
"The only person who is punished is the one who breaks the law," she says.
Each locality is limited to setting up 25 cameras within its city or county limits. Fairfax County began its program in 2000 and has recorded more than 50,000 violations.
The city of Fairfax began its version of the program in 1997, averaging about 7,000 to 8,000 violations a year.
Arlington County, which began its program in 1999, sends out an average of 11,500 tickets a year.
Another member of the public safety committee, Delegate R. Lee Ware Jr., Powhatan Republican, says he would support any effort to repeal the law enabling cameras. Relying on technology to do a police officer's job, he says, is a "very dangerous trend."


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