House Lawmakers Try To Resurrect Traffic Camera Restrictions

Some state lawmakers are still trying to restrict the use of cameras to catch speeders and drivers that run red lights. House members bought up situations in their home districts during debate on the issue.

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower tried to attach an amendment to an unrelated bill to shut down what he called a speed trap in Bluff City, Tennessee.

“We have a speed camera situation in a town of less than 1,000 people, in my district, which is sucking out of the economy of Sullivan County, over a quarter million dollars a month. “

Mumpower says the camera is not just an out-of-control revenue flow for small government. He says more than half the money from the speeding tickets issued by the Phoenix, AZ, camera company, goes to the parent company in Australia.

Representatives were split between wanting to outlaw the cameras, and letting the issue sleep for another year.

The House will take up Mumpower’s amendment again on Monday.

Currently, cameras are in place because of contracts reached with cities and counties, largely without legislative action. Another amendment, that has been attached to the bill, would make cites and counties pass laws before instituting cameras.

All these amendments are an attempt to revive the issue after the Senate rejected a red-light camera bill earlier this session.

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Several members brought up situations in their own districts as reasons to impose regulation on the unmanned traffic cameras. Jason Mumpower’s outburst was a rare district-oriented complaint from the Republican leader. He objected to the fines raised by the cameras going out of the U.S.

“Because it’s a company that’s based in Phoenix, Arizona, that’s partially owned by an Australian company, that handles the processing of tickets in Bluff City Tennessee, a town of about 1,000 people in East Tennessee.”

Others included Reps. Joe McCord, Matthew Hill, and Chad Faulkner.

Even Charlie Curtiss, the Democrat whose bill was the target of the amendments, says he got interested in the red-light camera issue.

“But one thing’s apparent, we’ve got some folks here that hate cameras of any sort. We’ve got other people that understand that if there’re used in the right manner, they’re tools to make out communities and highways safer. I think the particular one we’re talking about now, heck, I’m willing to go up there with Jason [Mumpower] and rip it out of the ground right now, as far as that goes.”

Curtis’s bill is HB 2875 Curtiss/SB 3586 Ketron.

Ignore the part about red plastic flags – Curtiss amended the bill in the House committees to create a new way for auto clubs to operate in the state, with significant new abilities. That was OK with the Senate, which passed the auto club bill March 24.

But a different bill, this one regulating red light cameras and speeding enforcement camera, didn’t fare so well in the Senate. The bill was largely a product of the House Transportation Committee, whose members spent two years studying the robot cameras.

Earlier this month, during the week of the flood, a five-member rump session of the Senate Transportation Committee relegated the red-light bill to a “study committee,” usually meaningless since it will be a different General Assembly that comes back in January.

That would keep the bill from passing this year. House members who had worked on the traffic-camera issue were incensed.

When Curtiss’s auto club bill came to the House floor, it was broad enough to be amended to address the camera issue.

Representative Joe McCord, a Maryville Republican, led the rush to amend Curtiss’s bill with a measure that requires – in the future – that contracts with the camera companies expire, local governments would actually have to vote on each individual location for each camera.

Currently, cameras are in place because of contracts reached with cities and counties, largely without legislative action. McCord’s amendment would stop that. It was adopted and is now part of the bill.

Then when Curtiss’s bill goes to the upper chamber, senators would have to confront the issue,

Faulkner makes the argument for forcing the Senate’s hand:

“But, I think if we send this bill in its posture, and just outright, outlawing those things today, that they may go along. I think it’s worth giving it a shot, folks.”

Curtiss for two weeks fought off the efforts to amend his bill. He argued that the red-light issue would sink his non-controversial bill when it went back to the Senate for concurrence.

Both houses have to agree on the same language before a bill can become a law. If the Senate simply refuses to act on the amended House bill, the entire bill would die when this General Assembly adjourns.

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