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No Go on Red Light Bill

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Red-light cameras won't be turned off in Florida this year.

Without enough votes lined up, Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes put the brakes on a bill (SB 144) that focused on repealing the state's red-light camera law. Instead, he proposed changes to increase regulations on the use of the devices.

But Brandes' Transportation Committee on Wednesday didn't act on the proposed changes, deciding to postpone a vote on his rewritten bill.

"That shows you the power of this (red light camera) industry," said Brandes who maintained his opposition to the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010, the state's red-light camera law, after the postponement.

"What you're seeing is municipalities that have become addicted to the funds, and in many of these cities it's not about safety," Brandes added. "It's become a backdoor tax increase."

While moving away from a repeal, Brandes proposed changes that would allow new cameras at intersections but only if their use is justified through traffic engineering studies --- a requirement that is included in a House bill. Also, money generated from red-light camera tickets would have to be used for traffic safety improvements, and jurisdictions wouldn't be able to use the cameras if they fail to provide annual camera-enforcement reports to the state.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who made a motion Wednesday for postponement, said the delay will give committee members "time to step back and take a better look at" the proposed changes.

"I'm not sure they were listening to me," Clemens said of the support he got for the delay. "I think we're just doing what was best at this point."

Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, views the cameras as simply a revenue generator for local communities. But he acknowledged that there isn't an enough support in the Senate to repeal the cameras. That was evident Wednesday when he couldn't get his own committee to approve three amendments to his rewritten bill.

"Clearly if I don't have the votes to adopt simple amendments that are common sense, such as standardizing turns throughout the state of Florida, clearly you would see that the broader issue was not long for this world," Brandes said.

Two of the amendments failed on 4-4 partly line votes, with Republican Senators Greg Evers of Baker and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami absent.

One of those amendments, opposed by the Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Sheriffs Association, would have allowed motorists to employ a "rolling stop" at speeds up to 15 mph when taking a right-on-red turns if no pedestrians were in the crosswalk at camera-monitored intersections.

The committee also rejected, by a 5-3 vote, an amendment that would have required only warnings to be issued to owners of vehicles caught on camera going through traffic signals 0.5 seconds after the colors changed from yellow to red.

Brandes said he might reintroduce the amendments when the bill returns next week.

Groups such as the Florida League of Cities have opposed Brandes' bill and similar attempts in the House to dramatically change red-light camera programs. Those groups contend the cameras are a public safety tool. Across Florida, at least 77 county and city governments operate red-light camera programs.

Rep. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who is an outspoken critic of the cameras, changed a House bill (HB 7005) on Monday as it went successfully before the House Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

Previously, Artiles sought to ban new cameras from going up and wanted to reduce the fines. But the revised House bill would not go as far, calling for steps such as requiring traffic-engineering studies to justify the need for new cameras.

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