Springfield leaders: New red light camera bill unconstitutional

Supporters of new bill say focus should be on safety, not revenue.

Some Ohio lawmakers want to put up more hurdles for cities that use automated cameras to enforce traffic laws — including cutting their state funding — but Springfield leaders say the latest effort is unconstitutional.

If red light cameras are used for safety, cities shouldn’t profit off of their use, said state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, who co-sponsored a new traffic camera bill that passed the House last week and is now headed to the Senate.

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House Bill 410 is the latest effort by state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, to slow use of the cameras that supporters say make roads safer but opponents call modern-day speed traps designed to rake in revenue.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in July that previous state restrictions on red light cameras conflicted with cities’ home-rule authority. The new House bill would require cities to file traffic cases in municipal court instead of using an administrative process. It also calls for reducing state funding to cities by the amount they earn from camera citations.

Seitz said the bill will bring due process back to those who receive citations and test the cities’ claim that the cameras are in use for safety, not revenue.

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The bill attempts to penalize municipalities for exercising their home rule powers as recognized by the Ohio Supreme Court to have traffic camera programs, Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said.

“In my view, it is unconstitutional to try to punish anyone, including a city, for exercising its constitutional right,” Strozdas said.

While the red light cameras cut down on accidents, Koehler said if the program is all about safety, municipalities shouldn’t profit off of it.

The Supreme Court has ruled that cities have local control when it comes to red light cameras, Koehler said. But the state has control on local government funds, he said.

“We’re just saying you’re not going to police for profit,” Koehler said. “You’re not going to generate revenue off of it. That’s what the bill is really about and I agree with it.”

The bill recognizes that the Supreme Court has said cities have local control over red light cameras, he said, and it doesn’t stop cities from using the cameras.

“This is not a bill that restricts local control,” Koehler said. “If it’s all about safety, then it’s all about safety. But if it’s all about revenue, that’s a completely different story and that’s what this bill addresses.”

Springfield has 17 cameras at 10 intersections that were turned off in 2015 once a new state law went into effect requiring a police officer to be present at the time of the violation. Those regulations have led to multiple lawsuits, including one filed by the city of Springfield, that alleged the new rules violate home-rule authority.

Springfield had used red light cameras for nearly a decade — the city issued about 77,000 citations between 2006 and 2015, collecting about $3.4 million in fines — when it shut them off. In 2007, Springfield intersections with red light cameras saw 90 accidents. That number decreased to 44 in 2014 — a 51 percent decrease.

Under the state law, officials in Springfield estimated they would have had to hire at least 42 new officers to run its program.

Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on a challenge filed by Dayton and declared the new law restricting red light cameras unconstitutional, impacting 8 million drivers statewide.

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In December, the Ohio Supreme Court sent Springfield’s lawsuit back to a Clark County court, saying it should take into account its ruling declaring parts of the law unconstitutional.

The city has no plans to turn its red light cameras back on in the immediate future, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.

The cameras were put up to deal with people running red lights in high crash areas, he said, not to bring in money. The program worked well, Copeland said, cutting accidents in half at those intersections.

“Each year, we got less money because we had less people running red lights, which is exactly what were trying to do and we were happy about that,” Copeland said.

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Overall traffic crashes increased 8 percent between 2014 and 2016 and traffic crashes at monitored intersections increased 13 percent from 44 in 2014 to 50 in 2016 when the cameras were shut off, according to the Springfield Police Division.

The bill appears to have bi-partisan support. It passed the House 65-19 and now heads to the Senate.

“It can always languish and never go anywhere,” Koehler said.


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Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of red light cameras since Springfield’s program began more than a decade ago, including stories digging into the money generated by them, effect on crashes and lawsuits filed challenging new restrictions on their use.

Red light camera crashes

Here’s a look at the number of crashes at the 10 intersections with red light cameras during Springfield’s program:

2007: 90 crashes

2008: 56 crashes

2009: 75 crashes

2010: 52 crashes

2011: 56 crashes

2012: 48 crashes

2013: 46 crashes

2014: 44 crashes

Source: City of Springfield

By the numbers

$3.4 million: Fines from red light cameras collected since Springfield installed them between 2006 and 2015.

77,000: Red light camera citations issued by the city since the program started

51 percent: Reduction in crashes at intersections with cameras after the devices were installed

Source: City of Springfield

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