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Judges question constitutionality of state's red-light cameras, toss cases

A red-light traffic camera is visible which is one of two cameras posted on US 41 (Broad Street) near Wiscon Road in the City of Brooksville on Thursday, May 17, 2012.
Published Dec. 27, 2013

In operation for a little more than 18 months, Brooksville's red-light cameras may be earning the city revenue, but they haven't won a lot of fans.

Opponents of the program sound off at nearly every City Council meeting. And this year saw the launch of a citizen-backed campaign that seeks to put the issue of the camera program before city voters in 2014.

But perhaps the most significant blow to the cameras came during the past year when two Hernando County judges threw out some red-light camera cases, saying the state law governing them was constitutionally unclear.

In May, County Judge Donald E. Scaglione issued an order, not based on any specific traffic case, stating why he would begin dismissing right-turn-on-red cases, and calling the portion of the state law dealing with right-on-red violations "vague (and) arbitrary and capricious." The 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act governing traffic camera programs, he said, created a defense that says a right turn on red, without the motorist stopping, is permissible if the turn is made "in a careful and prudent manner," but fails to define those terms, leading to arbitrary rulings.

Right-on-red violators who went before County Judge Kurt Hitzemann heard similar comments from the bench. Nearly 400 drivers got their citations tossed out as a result of the dispute.

But things didn't end there. State Attorney General Pam Bondi objected to Scaglione's actions and argued that state law requires that the attorney general be notified and given an opportunity to be heard when a party alleges that a state law is unconstitutional. In a motion, she asked the judge to order defendants to put their constitutional challenges in writing, then set a hearing to consider the challenges.

A September hearing that was attended by Bondi's representative, Robert Dietz, yielded plenty of debate, but no definitive answer as to the law's constitutionality.

One of more than 70 cities and municipalities statewide that currently have the cameras, Brooksville installed its system in May 2012. A majority of City Council members who voted for them said they supported them for public safety reasons.

Logan Neill, Times staff writer

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