Florida House green lights red light camera bill

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— Melissa Wandall's quest to get state authorization for red light cameras received a green light in the Florida House on Friday.

Her 30-year-old husband, Mark Wandall, was killed by a red light runner near their Bradenton home in 2003.

Since then, she's made it her mission to persuade lawmakers that using the automatic cameras to ticket red light violators can serve as a deterrent and save lives.

Similar measures have been rejected for the past five years, but that losing streak may be over. The House passed the authorization bill (HB 325) dubbed the "Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act" on a 77-33 vote.

"We've done a lot of hard work trying to get people to understand this is a real safety issue," Wandall said after watching the debate and roll call from the House gallery.

The bill next goes to the Senate where a similar measure (SB 2166) is set for a floor vote next week. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, has said he thinks its time may have come.

Dozens of communities already have installed the cameras under questionable legal authority. That includes three intersections near Wandall's home. She said they've reduced crashes by 60 percent.

"At one of the intersections we had 101 violators a day and it went down to one a day," Wandall said "So, they work, and I believe in them."

Some lawmakers, though, see the cameras as a violation of privacy rights and individual liberties as well as a potential government moneymaker.

"This is nothing more than a revenue grab," said Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill. "I've heard many of you debate on this floor and say the phrase 'I'm for less government, more freedom.' ... If you vote for this today you'll never ever be able to say that phrase again."

Another opponent, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, drew on a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

Those arguments drew a sharp response from Rep. Clay Ford, a Republican from the Pensacola suburb of Gulf Breeze, which has installed a red light camera at a school complex.

"You know, we have a lot of liberties in this country," Ford said. "Running red lights and killing school children isn't one of them."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, denied money was his motive.

"I never went into this with the revenue in mind," Reagan said. "I hope ... communities that install these cameras never make a nickel."

State economists, though, have estimated local and state governments should make plenty from the $158 fines. Local governments would get $75 and state the rest. Ten dollars of the state's share would be earmarked for health care and $3 for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis for brain and spinal cord research.

The state is expected to get $29.2 million in the first year. That would increase to $94.8 million in 2013-14 budget year. Local governments are expected to receive $10.1 million in the first year and $65.7 million in 2013-14.

The bill, however, includes a provision prohibiting camera vendors or manufacturers from being paid based on the number of violations obtained.

Motorists who disregarded traffic signals in Florida were blamed for 76 deaths and injuries to 5,607 people in 2008, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Across the country red light running kills about 750 people and injures 260,000 annually, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. It also reports more than 400 communities nationally use red light cameras.

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