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House looks at revamping red-light cameras

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Despite opposition from local governments, a House panel Wednesday approved a plan that would revamp the state's red-light camera law -- including giving a pass to motorists who turn right on red without stopping.

The plan (PCB HWSS 15-05) would bar the use of cameras to cite drivers for improperly turning right on red. Also, it would require that local governments use money from red-light camera violations to bolster public safety, rather than spending it on other priorities.

"This program was instituted with the idea of increasing public safety, so I think that if we have a program that was created to enhance public safety, then the funds that are retained from the program should go just toward that," said Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican who is helping lead efforts to pass the bill.

The House Highway & Waterway Safety Subcommittee voted 12-1 to approve the bill, with only Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, opposed. But the measure drew objections from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

"We think more questions come up than answers,'' said Casey Cook, a lobbyist for the league of cities.

Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said the proposal could be confusing to drivers.

"Right now, in statute it is against the law to make a right-hand turn without stopping at a red light camera,'' Mercer said. "Now, they are saying it will be OK at red light camera-monitored intersections. So, it is quite confusing."

Avila said police officers would still be able to pull over motorists for right-on-red violations. But with the cameras, he said lawmakers are focused on helping prevent high-speed collisions, rather than citing people for improperly turning right on red.

"We're trying to focus on high-speed collisions,'' Avila said. "That's ultimately what we want to prevent."

The Legislature in 2010 approved a law that governs the use of red-light cameras across the state. But the issue has remained controversial, with some lawmakers attempting in the past to block the use of the cameras.

The House proposal would allow cameras to continue being used, but it would add new restrictions on local governments. Motorists, who are nabbed by cameras running red lights, face paying $158 penalties. Of that total, $75 goes to local governments and $83 goes to the state.

Critics have long argued that the cameras have become a revenue source for local governments. The House bill would address that criticism by requiring that money generated by the cameras go to public safety.

Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, urged the panel to more specifically require local governments to spend the money on driver's education programs for teens. He expressed frustration about how camera-generated money has been used.

"It's just a money grab and a money fest,'' said Slosberg, who is heavily involved in transportation-safety issues and whose daughter died in a traffic accident.