The Ohio Supreme Court declared a law restricting red light cameras unconstitutional Wednesday, a decision that will impact Springfield and 8 million drivers statewide.
The court ruled 5 to 2 in case brought by Dayton that a 2015 state law restricting the use of speed and red light cameras hampered cities’ home-rule authority, which allows municipalities to pass laws to govern themselves.
The ruling allows Springfield leaders to again use red light cameras again after the city shut them off because they believed the restrictions were too costly to follow. City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said Wednesday he plans to review the ruling with commissioners before they decide whether to turn them back on.
“While I’m pleased with the supreme court ruling today, we still do not plan to take actions or steps immediately to turn the cameras back on,” Bodenmiller said. “Our commission wants to have a full understanding of the law.”
Springfield had used red light cameras for nearly a decade when the city shut them off because of the new regulations that required an officer to be present for a driver to receive a citation. Under the state law, officials in Springfield estimated they would have to hire at least 42 officers to run its 17 cameras at 10 intersections.
Springfield also sued the state and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear it but that case was put on hold pending the outcome of the Dayton lawsuit.
The city of Springfield issued about 77,000 citations between 2006 and 2015, collecting about $3.4 million in fines.
Crashes at intersections with cameras were cut in half.
“This was a safety issue for us,” Mayor Warren Copeland said.
The court’s ruling is a win for municipalities, who have seen their right to home rule steadily eroded in recent years, said Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League. But he cautioned the fight isn’t over.
“I don’t know if they’re going to appeal,” Scarrett said of Ohio legislators. “But I think we will probably see more legislative language that will try and in other ways preempt the ability of our cities and villages to manage these police power issues and specifically the red light camera.”
Some state lawmakers have already vowed to shut the devices down again.
State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, the architect of the law declared unconstitutional, said the ruling only applies to home-rule cities and remains in place for Ohio’s 1,300 townships and 88 counties as well as villages. When lawmakers return from summer recess in September, Seitz said they’ll consider requiring photo-enforcement tickets go through municipal courts instead of an administrative process.
The state may withhold local government fund money from cities that receive money from traffic cameras, Seitz said.
“Since they’re getting money that way, they obviously don’t need our money,” he said. “I think those two things would have a very salutary effect in taking the profit out of the policing for profit equation and render the decision today a Pyrrhic victory for those folks like Dayton and Toledo that think they are above the law.”
Dayton challenged three parts of the state’s law. That included language that a police officer be posted at each operating camera, that cities conduct a three-year traffic study before deploying a camera, and that speeders be given leeway of 6 miles per hour over the limit in a school zone and 10 miles over elsewhere.
Bodenmiller said the court’s decision was a win for cities, regardless of whether city commissioners decide to use the cameras again.
“It’s fine for the state to say you can’t turn right on red without stopping,” Bodenmiller said. “But how we enforce that is up to us and that’s kind of where they overstepped their bounds in my opinion.”
Jerry Taylor, a Springfield resident, has mixed feelings about the use of red light cameras. He’s never received a ticket from a speed or red light camera and believes they likely prevent crashes.
“It’s good for safety,” he said. “But not having a cop there to oversee it is what everybody’s mad about.”
Scarrett argued numerous state laws in recent years have stepped on the home-rule rights of municipalities. Similar disputes have ranged from cell tower location regulations to minimum wage laws to where a pet store gets its puppies due to concerns about puppy mills.
“That’s a dangerous conversation,” Scarrett said. “It’s growing the size and scope of the state government. It’s eclipsing the authority of our communities and its eclipsing the will of the people in our communities who have the directive interaction with their legislative councils.”
Staff Writer Laura Bischoff also contributed to this report.
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