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Bill to ban red-light, speed cameras advances

A bill that would shut off red light and speed cameras throughout Ohio took a step forward Tuesday.

The Ohio House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted 9-4 to refer to the full Ohio House a bipartisan bill that would largely ban automated traffic cameras, which currently operate in 14 Ohio communities.

Co-sponsor state Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, said he thinks the bill has the votes to clear the Ohio House Wednesday. It would still need approval from the Ohio Senate and a signature from Ohio Gov. John Kasich before it would become law.

Maag and co-sponsor Rep. Dale Mallory, D-Cincinnati, said the bill was inspired by the case of Elmwood Place, a Hamilton County village of roughly 2,200 people that issued $1.5 million worth of automated speeding tickets during a period of six months until a Hamilton County judge shut them down last March.

The committee approved a late amendment that would allow speed cameras to be set up and operated in school zones during school hours, as long as a police officer is physically present to monitor the device and make sure it’s working properly. Otherwise, House Bill 69 would completely shut off the cameras statewide as they exist today.

Those in favor of the ban say the cameras circumvent due process and are just a way for communities to make money.

Maag said allowing some communities to treat speeding or red-light running as a civil offense, as the cameras do, while allowing others to treat the same actions as a crime, is unfair.

“The citizens of Ohio are not being treated equally, and that is the most important thing,” Maag said.

But police officers and public safety officials from Dayton, Springfield, Trotwood, West Carrollton and Columbus, which all have automated traffic cameras, testified against the ban, saying the cameras reduce crashes, free up police resources for more serious crimes and raise revenue for cities that run them.

Police representatives also said that legislators shouldn’t shut the whole system down just because of concerns with one small community.

George Speaks, deputy public safety director for Columbus, said legislators should instead impose a set of regulations that would require all municipalities with automated camera systems to follow the same set of rules.

A ban, Speaks said, “would undoubtedly increase deaths, increase property damage and increase crashes throughout the state of Ohio.”

State Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, who voted against the ban, said he favors a regulatory approach rather than an outright ban.

“We have technology, we will continue to develop technology and law enforcement should certainly be able to continue to utilize technology to help protect our citizens,” McGregor said.

Red-light and speed cameras in Trotwood pay for the salaries of two and a half officers there, said police Capt. John Porter. If a ban goes through, the city might either have to lay them off or ask voters to pass a levy, he said.

Porter said crashes in Trotwood have dropped 35 percent since the cameras were installed in 2005.

“I’m not satisfied with the direction this is going,” Porter said following the vote. “If this were to go all the way through, it’s going to have a drastic effect not only on the city of Trotwood, but on all the municipalities.”

The ban would cost the communities that operate them, ranging from the thousands to the millions.

Dayton collected about $2.4 million from camera citations in 2012. Dayton keeps about $55 of the $85 civil citation and sends the rest to Phoenix-based RedFlex Traffic Systems. RedFlex also operates cameras in Hamilton, Middletown, Springfield, Trotwood and West Carrollton.

Springfield issued 6,638 citations in 2012 and generated $287,784 from paid tickets. Hamilton uses speed cameras mounted on an SUV and 20,782 citations were issued between March 31, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2013, generating $958,636. In the small Butler County community of New Miami, police have given more than 9,700 violations since installing two mobile speed cameras in the village Oct. 1 and collected more than $210,000.

Middletown’s 14 red-light cameras — located at eight “high accident” intersections in the city — generated $186,580 for the city’s general fund in 2012.

Staff Writer Jackie Borchardt contributed to this report

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