TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - While not pulling the plug on the controversial devices, a House committee Thursday approved a bill that would place more restrictions on how cities and counties use red-light cameras to police busy intersections.
The bill (HB 1061) would prevent using the cameras to cite drivers for improperly turning right on red lights. Also, it would set minimum amounts of time for yellow traffic lights to display and could give drivers more legal tools to fight citations.
Jacksonville began installing 25 cameras at 18 intersections began going up earlier this year. Tickets began going out March 1 from the first three -- all along Southside Boulevard. The grace period for camera-generated tickets runs out Thursday for cameras at University at Atlantic boulevards, Beach at University boulevards, and Atlantic Boulevard at Monument Road.
Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said he sponsored a bill to make sure drivers' due-process rights are protected.
"This does not ban red-light cameras,'' Artiles said before the House Economic Affairs Committee voted 12-4 to approve the measure. "This regulates them at minimums."
Though Artiles and local-government groups said they are trying to reach agreement on the bill, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Police Chiefs Association expressed opposition to the current version.
League of Cities lobbyist Casey Cook, for example, said using the cameras to enforce right-on-red violations is important in places such as beach communities, which have large amounts of pedestrian traffic.
"We think that is a local decision, and it should stay that way,'' Cook said.
The bill is slated to go next to the House Appropriations Committee. Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Royal Palm Beach, has filed a similar measure (SB 1342), though it has not been heard in a Senate committee.
With red-light cameras popping up at intersections across the state in recent years, the Legislature has repeatedly debated whether to ban or restrict the devices. The cameras take images of vehicles running red lights, a violation that carries a $158 fine.
While local governments support the use of the cameras, critics point to issues such as the photographic images not being able to identify the drivers who are running red lights. As a result, notices are sent to the owners of the vehicles --- regardless of whether they were actually behind the wheel.
Artiles' bill includes a formula for the minimum amount of time yellow lights would have to display, which could decrease the number of red-light violations. Also, it would make changes in the process used to appeal camera-related citations, such as requiring authentication of evidence in court.
Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, are sponsoring another measure (HB 4011) that would bar local governments from using red-light cameras. That bill also passed the Economic Affairs Committee last month, by a slimmer 10-8 margin.
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