An Ohio House member who has proposed legislation to restrict the use of traffic cameras over the years has introduced several new bills on their use.
“Traffic cameras have proven to be a nuisance to the public, providing zero increase to public safety,” said state Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville. “While I understand their purpose in principle, I have yet to see it in practice.”
Girard Mayor James Melfi, whose city uses speed cameras, said Patton’s proposals don’t “bother me. We’ve seen and heard proposals before. We’re in the business of protecting citizens and pedestrians and raising revenue. If this legislation is passed, we would follow it.”
Of Patton’s seven new bills, four were introduced in the last legislative session, but didn’t get out of committee.
Those four would prohibit:
• A community that doesn’t operate a fire department or an emergency medical service organization to use traffic photo-monitoring devices.
• A community with fewer than 200 residents from using the devices.
• A community from issuing a total number of traffic citations using the devices annually that exceeds two times its population.
• A community from getting more than 30 percent of its total annual revenue from the issuance of citations from the devices.
The new Patton proposals would:
• Prohibit the placement of traffic cameras within a half-mile of an interstate highway entrance.
• Prohibit a community located in a county with a population of at least 1 million from using traffic cameras on interstate highways. Only Franklin and Cuyahoga counties have populations that size.
• Require 80 percent of all revenue from traffic camera citations to be used for law enforcement expenses.
Melfi said the 80 percent proposal would impact Girard as about 40 percent of the money collected through speed camera citations goes to the police department.
The rest, he said, is used for street improvements such as paving and the purchase a few years ago of a street sweeper as well as toward recreation.
“We’re trying to slow traffic down and create revenue, which is a problem to some,” Melfi said. “Slower speeds make for safer roads.”
Even if all of Patton’s bills pass, Melfi said the city will continue to use speed cameras.
“These bills provide reasonable solutions to our ever-growing problem of the misuse of local authority,” Patton said.
Patton said the proposal related to county population is because Linndale, a community near Cleveland with about 100 residents, makes about 95 percent of its general revenues from the issuance of fines, licenses and permits generated by traffic camera citations.
Attorney Marc Dann, who is representing a group of people who got speeding citations in Girard in a class-action suit, said the cameras are a “cesspool for corruption.”
Dann, a former state attorney general, said he co-sponsored legislation to change the traffic camera laws during his time in the state Senate from 2003 to 2006.
The cameras are “a cash grab by communities that are more concerned with money than traffic enforcement,” Dann said.
More than 7,700 people driving on a section of Interstate 80 in Girard were cited and billed for speeding for about a month as the cameras were set for a construction zone of 55 mph when the construction had finished Dec. 7, 2017, and the regular 65 mph limit was in force. One sign was left on the road stating the speed limit was 55 mph.
Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Blue Line Solutions, the traffic camera company, in December 2021. Logan also absolved the city of any financial blame.
Dann filed an appeal with the 11th District Court of Appeals seeking damages from the city.
“It’s literally highway robbery,” Dann said.
He added: “You fight more crime when you pull people over for speeding than using the cameras. Pulling people over not only deters speeding, but you get the opportunity to get drug dealers who are on I-80 or people with a back seat full of AK-47s. You’re giving up something by not doing traffic stops.”
Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court heard a case from Newburgh Heights and East Cleveland, both in Cuyahoga County, contending a state law approved in 2019 related to traffic cameras was unconstitutional.
That law required these cases be heard in municipal or county courts rather than administrative hearings and reduced a community’s Local Government Fund payment by the amount it received in traffic camera citations.
The Cleveland-based 8th District Court of Appeals ruled that the Local Government Fund reduction as well as an advanced deposit requirement for filing fees and court costs violated home rule. The state appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Wednesday that New Miami in Butler County didn’t have to refund $3 million to motorists who received speed-camera tickets.
The village had collected about $3 million in a 20-month period, starting in July 2012, from speed cameras from people driving at least 11 mph over the limit. Those in that class-action lawsuit contend the camera program is unconstitutional.
The court ruled to let a 12th District Court of Appeals decision from October 2020 in favor of the village stand.
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