News Story

Photo-Cop Camera Advocates Shift To Speeding

Another bill introduced to ticket drivers

Legislators have come back again with a second attempt in two years to authorize automated traffic enforcement cameras on Michigan's streets and roads.

Under Senate Bill 1063, photographs taken by the cameras would be used to identify vehicles that have allegedly exceeded the speed limit. Owners of the vehicles would then be cited for violations and, unless they fought the charges, have to pay fines.

According to the description of the bill, "Local governments could contract out the operation of the cameras, and keep 56 percent of the fine revenue." The companies that produce and operate the camera systems have lobbied hard for them to be allowed in Michigan and other states.

Under the bill, the cameras could be located within 2,500 feet (a little shy of half a mile) of  property used by a school, college or university. In most metropolitan areas this is likely to allow the cameras to be installed almost anywhere.

A legislative effort to allow the use of photo-cop cameras in 2013 was squelched by the public outcry against it. However that legislation, House Bills 4762 and 4763, pertained to potential red light violators instead of the would-be speeders that Senate Bill 1063 would target.

“This is an example of how hard they (the companies who make and operate the cameras) are trying to get what they want passed,” Jim Walker of the National Motorists Association told Capitol Confidential. “They just tried to do this with the other legislation and ran into opposition from almost everybody from the ACLU, the Police Officers of Michigan to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.”

“So here they go again with Senate Bill 1063,” Walker added. “They are always trying to open a different door, but it always leads to the same place.”

Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, introduced Senate Bill 1063 on Sept. 16 and managed to get just one co-sponsor, Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. Sen. Jones, who strongly opposed the red light camera legislation, told Capitol Confidential that he signed on as co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1063 based on how it was verbally described to him by Senator Smith.

“This bill was described to me as being limited to allowing the cameras at school crossings,” he said. “You know — the kind that have the yellow caution lights, and only during school hours. Also, I was told it would include a three-county pilot program to test it out.”

“I signed on to this bill because it was presented to me as something to protect the safety of children,” Sen. Jones continued. “But if there is anything in this bill that expands on what was described to me, and the bill was brought up on the Senate floor, I would stand-up and have my name removed as a co-sponsor and oppose the bill. I can say, however, that that will never happen. I know that won’t happen because I have checked and this bill is not going to come up – it is not going to move.”

In point of fact, the legislation is very different from what Sen. Jones said Sen. Smith described to him.

As Senate Bill 1063 is actually drafted, installation of the cameras would not be limited to specific school crossings with special yellow lights. The description of where they could be installed is very broad. The cameras could be placed within 2,500 feet of property used by a school, college or university, on a street or road where it is “generally accepted that motor vehicle, pedestrian or bicycle traffic is substantially generated or influenced” by the school or institution of higher education.

The time period the cameras would operate would not be limited to the period of time that a school was open – they would be in operation from 6 am to 8 p.m. seven days a week; in other words, after school hours and during weekends as well.

In addition, the bill appears to veer into election law territory by restricting citizen initiatives to halt a local photo-cop ordinance to the 30 days after its adoption. There seems to be nothing in the bill about a pilot program.

It is not uncommon for co-sponsorship of a bill to take place as the result of a verbal description of the legislation by a fellow lawmaker. Sen. Smith has not responded to repeated calls and an email from Capitol Confidential.

The question he would be asked is whether he misrepresented the bill to Sen. Jones or whether someone else did somehow managed to get very different bill language drafted.

It is also worth noting that – with the possible exception of the language about the area where the cameras could be installed being within 2,500 feet of a school or college – the rest of the bill appears to be the generic language used for bills introduced in other states to legalize the use of photo-cop cameras.

“The ideas, goals, and purposes for both speed and red light cameras are always identical – how to get cameras approved that will ticket the highest possible numbers of safe drivers, plus the tiny number of dangerous ones, for the highest profits,” Walker said. “The bills are crafted to 1) reduce the probable rates of ticket challenges in court,; 2) make legal challenges to the new laws unlikely to be successful with ludicrously short challenge periods like the 30 days in SB 1063; 3) eliminate as much due process and discovery in court as possible; 4) protect camera companies and employees as much as possible; 5) allow the broadest use of cameras possible; 6) define the photo records as ‘gospel’; and 7) provide enforcement methods for unpaid tickets.”


See also:

Lawmaker Does U-Turn on Red Light Cameras

Legislators Steering Michigan Toward Red Light Cameras

Legislator: Speed Traps 'A Tax on the Poor'

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.