Paul Henry's Letter to Senator Jack Latvala

Paul Henry wrote this great letter to Senator Jack Latvala to schedule SB 168 to repeal red light cameras in the next Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development subcommittee agenda. Please use this information to contact Senator Latvala and ask him to schedule SB 168 in the next Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development subcommittee agenda.

Senator Jack Latvala / (850) 487-5020 / latvala.jack.web@flsenate.gov

Chair Latvala and Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development subcommittee members,

Yesterday the House Appropriations Committee voted to repeal the red light camera program in Florida. The House bill has now passed all of its committee assignments and will go to the floor for a vote. The red light camera program is an important issue, as it affects hundreds of thousands of Floridians and tourists each year. The program has the potential to affect anyone that owns a motor vehicle even if their vehicle did not violate the law, such as when the wrong vehicle is ticketed or just a 1-digit error is made on the tag number.

In summary, there are a lot of reasons to rid Florida of the camera program, and even if you oppose repeal the fair thing to do is to give this controversial issue a fair hearing. The only justification for possibly keeping the program is state revenue. My question then becomes are the added injuries and fatalities worth this money?

If you'd care to read about several of the reasons to rid Florida of red light cameras, I have included this information below. It is now up to you to decide if the Senate companion, SB 168, will be heard in your committee. I'd request you consider the following to aid in your decision:

1) There is now only one city in all of Pinellas County that is using a camera program, down from five just a few years ago. Yesterday in committee, Pinellas Rep. Rouson noted that while he supported red light cameras, the people he represented did not. He noted since St. Petersburg dropped the program, there has not been an outcry to return it. He voted to repeal the cameras.

2) The number of cities and counties in Florida using the program has fallen sharply. At one point, there were 83 such users, and now there are fewer than 60 and the number continues to fall due to contracts that are not being renewed. State revenue has dropped accordingly. An advantage to SB 168 is that it gives users until 2019 to allow their contracts to expire, thereby shielding the taxpayer from paying the amount owed where there has been insufficient revenue. Here in Tallahassee, my analysis pointed out the city was hundreds of thousands in debt and the only way to save the taxpayer was to allow the contract to expire, which the commission did in August 2015.

3) The state's 2015 annual report on the cameras notes a sharp increase in serious injury and fatal crashes at camera intersections when a comparison is made for before and after camera use. Several camera opponents in the Legislature have complained there is not enough crash data to decide. The reason why there is insufficient crash data is because local officials are failing to report it. In prior state reports, as many as 41 percent of camera users failed to submit crash data that is required by law, and none were penalized. Why are they hiding this data if the camera program is in fact changing driver behavior and increasing safety? None to this date have reported the actual number of red light violation crashes, which should be the benchmark for a red light camera program. This should again cause you to wonder what it is they are hiding. One city in your district, Clearwater, did report this type of crash in a roundabout way back in 2013. In an October 3, 2013 Clearwater Beacon news story, the Police Chief reported that the number of red light violation crashes doubled and the total number of crashes tripled after use of cameras. Despite this negative information, Clearwater's elected officials voted to extend their contract and they remain the only city in Pinellas County to use them.

I'll add a professional opinion formed from working over 1,000 traffic crashes in my career: No red light camera will prevent the inattentive or impaired driver from running a red light, and these are the violations that injure and kill others and remain caught on camera to this day. That is among the best evidence of the failure of the camera program in deterring red light violation crashes.

4) The camera law is fundamentally unfair, as it shifts the burden of proof of proving who violated the law for traffic violations to the defendant vehicle owner instead of the state. I worked in Florida as a law enforcement officer for 25 years and each ticket I wrote carried the burden for me to prove who violated the law. It was not the responsibility of the defendant to do so. The camera program now uses locally-operated courts that can employ untrained hearing officers that cannot use the rules of evidence. This is the textbook definition of a kangaroo court, as it makes a mockery of justice.

5) The camera program removes the discretion our police officers have when dealing with violators. I did not ticket every violator I stopped, yet the camera program does so since there is no provision for a warning. Unlike our police officers, the cameras cannot remove impaired drivers from our roads.

6) The Florida League of Cities is now pushing the notion that this is a local control issue. While in a prior hearing they claimed they were not taking a position on the issue this year, in their testimony following my testimony yesterday they confirmed they in fact oppose the repeal of the camera law (as they have done since 2011). While I support government that governs as close to home as possible, the fact is the state must regulate traffic laws uniformly. Chapter 316 of the statutes is called State UNIFORM Traffic Control for a reason, and this is supported by Attorney General Opinions from 1997 and 2005. Otherwise, we'd have over 400 sets of traffic laws and enforcement here, which would lead to confusion and a huge increase in traffic crashes. It is also difficult for citizens to have a voice in this process locally.

Last year, I was able to stop the camera program here in Tallahassee, however it took over 6 months to get public records, and the city actively opposed me by deleting much of what I requested and denying me time to meet with and speak to officials. In Brooksville, two citizens attempted to get this issue on the ballot. They were sued by their own government and lost. In spite of this obstruction to the representative form of government we are supposed to enjoy, the camera program has now ended there thanks to several officials that supported it being voted out of office.

Thank you for considering this information. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Paul Henry
Legislative Consultant
Paul@LibertyFirstFL.org

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