- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

RICHMOND — Coming soon to an intersection near you: cameras to catch red-light runners.

The Senate voted 30-10 yesterday to authorize all local governments in the state to use “photo red” technology at dangerous intersections. The bill, which the House of Delegates passed two weeks ago, needs only Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s signature to become law.

“We want to review it, of course, but the governor is inclined to support the bill, especially since localities have the option to participate,” Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said after the Senate vote.

Pilot programs allowing photo-red enforcement in several Northern Virginia localities and Virginia Beach expired July 1, 2005. Several measures to reinstate or expand those programs failed in recent years.

The technology allows cameras to snap photos of cars that run stoplights at certain busy intersections. The license plate number is used to identify the car’s owner, who then receives a ticket in the mail.

Photo-red supporters say the system encourages compliance with the law and saves lives by reducing broadside collisions. Critics question the safety benefits, call the use of cameras an invasion of privacy and worry that police will use the cameras primarily to generate revenue.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, offered an amendment on the Senate floor to require a longer yellow light, which he said would make it more difficult for localities to use the system to generate revenue.

Approval of the amendment would have required the bill to go back to the House. Some senators said the measure could be imperiled if it went back to the House.

“It has taken us years to get this bill out of the House of Delegates, and we’d be foolish to send it back,” said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican.

The amendment was rejected on a voice vote.

The legislation limits the use of cameras to one intersection per 10,000 residents in any locality. A vehicle owner who receives a ticket in the mail could avoid a fine by signing an affidavit stating that someone else was driving when the violation occurred.

The bill also establishes a $1,000 civil fine for anyone who discloses personal information related to a violation, including a copy of the photo.

The House voted 67-30 yesterday to pass a similar bill after amending it to change the disclosure violation from a civil offense to a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“The last thing in the world anyone in this body or any citizen wants is to see their picture flash up on the Internet running a red light,” said Delegate Leo C. Wardrup Jr., Virginia Beach Republican, who proposed the amendment.

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk reported last week that police e-mails and memos showed that Mr. Wardrup tried to use his legislative office to avoid a ticket after running a red light and causing an accident in October 2005. Mr. Wardrup, who has denied trying to escape the summons, earlier this month dropped his appeal of a conviction stemming from the accident and agreed to pay a $100 fine.

The amended bill now goes back to the Senate to consider the change. If the Senate agrees to the amendment, both versions of the bill will be on Mr. Kaine’s desk.

m Minimum wage

A proposal to raise Virginia’s minimum wage was killed by a parliamentary maneuver on the House floor yesterday.

The Democrat-backed legislation was sent to the Appropriations Committee on a largely party-line 53-43 vote. The move dooms the bill because Monday was the deadline for committee action on legislation.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Charles J. Colgan Sr., Manassas Democrat, would have increased the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.50 per hour, effective July 1.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said the legislation needed to go to the Appropriations Committee because it would cost the state about $5 million.

Delegate Kenneth R. Plum, Fairfax County Democrat, argued that the state could easily accommodate any additional cost by tapping an unappropriated contingency fund.

Mr. Griffith also complained about the tactics employed by the bill’s supporters to get the measure to the floor. The bill had died in subcommittee, but was revived by a narrow majority of the House Commerce and Labor Committee and approved after debate was abruptly cut off.

Mr. Plum, who made the motion in committee to revive the bill, said he was merely following the procedure set by the Republican majority when House rules were changed last year.

m Payday lending

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday that he would make “significant changes” to a package of payday lending industry reforms if he gets the chance.

The House passed the bill last week. Now the Senate must either agree to changes made in the House, sending the bill to Mr. Kaine, or reject the amendments, forcing negotiations between House and Senate members.

“You will, in near certainty, see me make some significant changes to that bill,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, told reporters.

The industry-backed bill introduced by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, would create a statewide database to keep track of payday loans and limit borrowers to three at one time. Borrowers would have to wait 24 hours before taking out a loan after paying off another, and those who have taken out four consecutive loans could enter into a 60-day extended payment plan, during which time they could not take out another loan.

A similar bill in the House was withdrawn by its sponsor earlier this month after delegates placed on it a 72 percent annual interest rate cap. Payday lenders say a cap would put them out of business.


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