Come hell or high water, Ohio House Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, seems bound and determined to rid the state of traffic enforcement cameras.
Seitz has long maintained the cameras are a money grab for cities which use them and that the tickets they generate deny violators due process. He has been a regular sponsor of legislation that takes aim at places that make use of the cameras.
It’s a popular cause. No one likes getting a ticket, especially when it comes in the mail. But dismissing cameras also cancels the safety benefits they can provide.
Stationary cameras capture license plate numbers of vehicles when they run a red light, and result in a ticket to the person who the car is registered to. In other places, cameras held by officers are used to detect speeding. Neither type involve a traffic stop.
Tickets are considered civil violations, not criminal. No points are assigned to an offender’s license, and challenges are usually handled through an administrative process, not by a judge. A third-party company often handles the paperwork, and splits the fine with the municipality.
Cities and towns defend the use of cameras saying they improve safety in places where officers can’t always be. Some studies have shown they reduce accidents. They also raise funds that can help hire more police officers.
Seitz’s latest effort takes a different approach than his previous ones. It doesn’t ban the cameras outright, but discourages their use by withholding local government funding to those which do, in an amount equal to the amount cameras raise in revenue. For example, a city making $1 million in traffic tickets would get $1 million less from the state in local government funds.
Camera-generated tickets would also have to go through a municipal or county court.
The latest Seitz-backed effort to shutter traffic cams was added into the state transportation budget passed last week. Gov. Mike DeWine had been urged to line-item veto the camera amendment by some who felt “home rule” should prevail in such matters. DeWine passed on a veto, however, which means the measure will now wind through the courts, again.
That’s an unfortunate waste of time and taxpayer money.
Both Toledo and Dayton, which are among those which use the cameras, will likely fight the traffic camera provision. Toledo is among those with much to lose if it keeps its cameras. It’s expected to collect over $7 million in revenue this year through traffic cameras.
Communities should retain the right to decide if traffic cameras are appropriate for them. The city of Findlay once considered cameras to help police several hazardous intersections on Tiffin Avenue, but opted against them.
The Ohio Supreme Court has previously found that home-rule cities are within their constitutional rights to use the cameras. At some point, the same court may now have to determine if the state has the right to impose what amounts to financial penalties on cities and towns for trying to get motorists to follow the law.
Absent misuse, camera technology should be a tool available for use in communities which want them. Municipalities shouldn’t be punished for promoting safety, even if it raises revenue in the process.