Red light cameras on trial in Florida Supreme Court

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Red light cameras have made it to almost 80 Florida cities, but now the issue is in front of the state Supreme Court, and the results could affect the use of the controversial devices statewide.

Thursday, Justices will decide whether cities jumped the gun when installing Red Light Cameras before the 2010 authorization by the Florida Legislature.

So far, there has been conflicting rulings by two state appellate courts on the matter, leaving it to the high court for resolution.

In jeopardy are millions of dollars in fines collected from drivers prior to 2010. In addition, ruling against early use of Red Light Cameras could add momentum to the effort in the Legislature to repeal the law allowing the use of the controversial devices. 

“Cities are married to the revenue that these Red Light Cameras pull in,” Rep. Richard Corcoran told the Palm Beach Post. The Land O’ Lakes Republican voted to ban the devices in the Florida House two years ago.

At that time, the Senate snubbed the effort. The following session, Sen. Jeff Brandes, also added his voice to push for repeal. Senate President Don Gaetz is also on board, saying he would seek a state review. Gaetz is on record saying he will have findings by the start of the 2014 Legislature on March 4.

“These have become a backdoor tax increase for cities,” Brandes said to Post reporters. “I think we still don’t know how effective these cameras are at stopping accidents. But there’s way too much money involved.”

The money from violators is not going just to the cities. The state gets a portion of the $158 ticket, amounting to $51 million into state treasuries last year, as well as $60 million into the 77 cities and counties who have the cameras.

Those opposing Red Light Cameras hold it is not clear if they even reduce accidents.

A July report from the engineering department of Palm Beach County indicated accidents at intersections with red-light traffic cameras dropped only 2 percent.

Nearby intersections without the devices had a 12 percent drop.

In addition, after paying the contractors in charge of Red Light Cameras, the county discovered they had not made any money on them.

Several municipalities in Palm Beach County use red light cameras. Palm Springs scrapped plans to hire a magistrate to rule on appeals of red-light violations since they dropped them in July because the cameras did not significantly reduce crashes. In fact, rear-end collisions actually increased in a few cases.

Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions contracts Palm Beach County among others to install the cameras. ATS controls 80 percent of the Florida market, and have hired 23 lobbyists willing to work Tallahassee in the spring.

In the past two years, ATS also contributed $160,000 to the Florida GOP and $95,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

“This case really only affects the cities that had cameras before 2010,” ATS representative Charlie Territo said. “I don’t think you can draw inferences about where it could go.”

The ruling could also determine if remaining cities, such as Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are responsible for millions of dollars in citations for running lights.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.