TALLAHASSEE — Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes’ latest proposal to drive red-light cameras out of Florida squeezed through its first committee Thursday.
The proposal (SB 168) was backed by the Brandes-led Senate Transportation Committee in a 4-3 vote along party lines, with opposition also coming from local-government lobbyists and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
Brandes’ measure would repeal a law known as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010 and, as a result, prevent local governments from using the cameras for traffic enforcement. Gulf Breeze and Milton have used red-light cameras to curb accidents. Gulf Breeze has used them since 2006; Milton has used them since 2011.
Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, contends local governments use revenue from the cameras as a “backdoor” or “hidden” tax increase and that intersections are not made safer by any changes to driving habits related to the cameras.
“The simple truth is red-light cameras don’t increase safety, that they’re essentially a revenue-generation tool,” said Brandes, who has repeatedly sought to revamp or unplug the cameras in recent years.
Previous measures have sought to lengthen the time for yellow lights and to improve signage at intersections. Also, in 2014 Brandes put the brakes on a proposal to prevent local governments from using the cameras when he wasn’t able to line up enough votes in support.
It remains to be seen how much mileage Brandes gets on this year’s effort.
Democratic members of the committee said local governments should maintain the option to use the cameras and that the technology changes driving habits for the better.
“I’ve had one red-light ticket. And after I got it I never got another one because I stopped doing it, and that was probably like three or four years ago,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. “So I kind of believe personally that they work.”
A staff analysis of the bill noted that numerous studies have been conducted on the safety impact of red-light cameras “and the studies are contradictory.”
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said the measure goes against local control.
“I think it continues to take us down the road of thinking that we know best here in Tallahassee, rather than the people who represent the cities and represent the counties and are closer to the people,” Thompson said.
Scott Dudley, Florida League of Cities legislative director, took exception to Brandes saying municipalities use the cameras as a tax source.
“You called these a hidden tax,” Dudley said. “I think it’s a hidden tax that can be easily avoided by not running a red light. If you don’t do it, you don’t pay the tax.”
Dudley added that the league doesn’t support or oppose the technology, but it argues local governments should maintain the option to use cameras.
Owners of vehicles photographed going through red lights are subject to $158 fines. For each fine, $75 is retained by the local government and the rest goes to the state Department of Revenue.
State numbers indicate that 75 jurisdictions operated red-light cameras in the most recently completed fiscal year.
The Senate committee Thursday also made a change to the bill so that it would take effect July 1, 2019. The proposal initially was to be effective when signed into law. Brandes said the change is in part to allow existing contracts between municipalities and red-light camera companies to expire.
The bill must still get through two more Senate panels. A similar measure in the House (HB 4027) was approved last month by the Economic Affairs Committee and has only one more stop — the Appropriations Committee — before reaching the House floor.