Ohio traffic camera updates

Last June the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried an article describing “legislation that would bar communities from using traffic cameras to enforce speeding laws and red lights moving forward, but not before one key exception was added to the proposal.”

That would’ve been HB 69, co-sponsored by Greater Cincinnati state Reps. Dale Mallory, a Democrat, and Ron Maag, a Republican, which was approved with bipartisan support by the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, as that article reported, and “aiming to curtail use of automated cameras and radar equipment that many communities use to regulate traffic. The bill was drafted as an outright ban, but before the committee sent it to the House, it approved a change suggested by Rep. Nicholas Celebrezze, a Parma Democrat.” (Celebreeze amendment)

That article also made mention that during committee hearings “the camera systems came under heavy criticism from witnesses who complained that citizens were effectively denied due process that they would be guaranteed if their traffic ticket had been issued by a police officer, others said the appeal process often was cumbersome or ineffectual and that communities use the cameras not mainly as a tool to promote safety on the roadways, but rather as a money grab by charging a fine to owners of vehicles tagged by the cameras.

“…Cleveland, which has used traffic cameras six years, raised $6 million in 2012 with its traffic cameras and was among the top five in the state for revenue generated by cameras. Collectively, the top five raised more than $16 million. Attorney Michael Allen, who represents clients fighting the use of cameras in tiny Elmwood Place in Southeast Ohio -- also in the top five and singled out for heavy criticism in those hearings --  described it as ‘policing for profit.’” The Elmwood camera case is still pending.

Now there’s another twist as the Plain Dealer earlier this month reported a second dispute hitting the state’s supreme court – not challenging the validity of traffic cameras, but instead,  contending Toledo’s program is illegal because violations are handled administratively (by a hearing officer in the police department), stripping the Toledo Municipal Court of its jurisdiction over city law. (Bradley Walker v. City of Toledo et. al., case 13-1277)

Along with the two pending supreme court cases just mentioned, Ohio State Senators Tom Patton and Shirley Smith yesterday introduced a bill perhaps more precisely zeroing in on the major issue of the whole debate --- “To prohibit the use of traffic law photo-monitoring devices by municipal corporations to detect signal light violations unless the municipal corporation is authorized to establish a mayor's court.”  (SB 196)