Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg lawmaker files bill to ban red light cameras

TALLAHASSEE — It's bill filing season again, so that can mean only one thing for red light cameras: another attempt to remove them from public streets.

The Senate's Transportation Committee chairman, Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed SB 144 on Wednesday. It would ban the use of red light cameras, which are now used in at least 76 jurisdictions in Florida.

"This program was originally sold as being about safety," Brandes said. "I have come to believe that it's now about revenue."

Of the $158 collected from every citation, the state takes $83. The remaining $75 is split between the municipality and the camera vendor.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, according to the Florida Department of Revenue, the cameras produced about $62.5 million for the state.

The biggest player, by far, is American Traffic Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company that operates cameras in about 70 cities and counties in the state, including Miami, Tampa, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale. It has 24 lobbyists working for it in Tallahassee.

For good reason. In each legislative session since red light cameras were legalized in 2011, bills have been filed seeking their repeal. Charles Territo, an ATS spokesman, hardly sounded surprised when told about Brandes' bill and a promised companion bill in the House by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

"This feels like this is Groundhog Day," Territo quipped. "I'm shocked."

Territo referred to company statistics that he said countered the notion cameras are all about revenue. From the fourth quarter in 2011 to the second quarter in 2013, ATS records show, the average number of citations per camera dropped by 40 percent for cameras installed before 2011 and by more than half for cameras installed between July 2011 and July 2012.

Brandes said the ban wouldn't cancel existing contracts, but it would prohibit cities and counties renewing or signing new contracts with vendors if the bill is passed.

"We aim for full repeal," he said. "But we might get a moratorium on new cameras, and that's just fine. We need something because the system is broken."

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