News Column

Minn. Senate Panel Rejects Red-light Traffic Cameras Bill

Feb 26, 2013

Mark Sommerhauser

A state Senate panel on Monday turned back a bill authorizing what one lawmaker called "big-brother-style" enforcement, which would allow the use of cameras to ticket motorists who run red lights.

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety voted down the bill 9-6, following a hearing with supporting testimony from St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson and the bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud.

The Senate vote comes after a House hearing last week in which that chamber's version of the red-light camera bill was pulled back from a vote after it appeared in danger of defeat.

After Monday's Senate vote, Pederson said he's unsure if he'll continue to push the bill.

Red-light cameras haven't been used in Minnesota after a 2007 court ruling struck down a Minneapolis program that used them. But supporters want to change that and say the cameras would deter drivers from running red lights while freeing police officers to focus on more serious crimes.

But critics such as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association say the bill simply is a bid by municipalities to boost traffic-ticket revenue. Civil-liberties groups and privacy advocates say it could allow traffic cameras to be used for purposes other than red-light citations, such as citing motorists for speeding or other violations.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, raised the latter point during Monday's hearing, asking if use of the cameras is allowed for red-light violations, "Where does this stop?"

Pederson responded that the cameras only would photograph motorists and their vehicles if they run red lights.

A Pederson amendment aimed at addressing data-privacy concerns would allow data collected by cameras to be retained by government units for no more than 30 days after final adjudication of an alleged violation.

"The camera we're talking about today is not a spy camera," Pederson said.

But privacy advocate Rich Neumeister said it would bring about a "culture change" in Minnesota traffic enforcement by automating the process.

In other states and municipalities, such cameras record still footage and video footage at intersections.

The images are used to identify the vehicle and the driver that commit a red-light violation.

The footage is reviewed by a vendor, then sent to law enforcement to determine if a ticket is warranted.

Kleis and Anderson joined Pederson at the state Capitol on Monday to testify for the bill, as they did at last week's House hearing. Anderson told the panel the cameras have been shown to deter accidents in places where they've been used.

Pederson has acknowledged questions from critics about the role that a camera manufacturer, Redflex Traffic Systems, has had in lobbying for the bill.

Pederson says a Redflex lobbyist urged him to support the measure, but says his support is rooted in the city of St. Cloud's backing of it.

Kleis told the Senate panel that the St. Cloud City Council has passed resolutions in support of the red-light cameras for seven years running.

"This bill is not about one company," Pederson said.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)


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