Mo. legislature considers red light camera ban

Columbia uses red light cameras to change driving behavior.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, argues for his bill Wednesday morning during a committee hearing in Jefferson City. His legislation would ban cities from using red light cameras to give tickets.

Every year, Kathy Tremeear visits the intersection where her 10-year-old daughter Kayla Tremeear was killed in 2002.

The accident happened Dec. 29 at the intersection of Highway 141 and Jeffco Boulevard in Arnold after a driver ran a red light, the mother said.

A camera is now in place at the intersection to ticket anyone who runs a red light. Tremeear testified Wednesday morning in Jefferson City against a bill that would ban these cameras.

"I just want other people to not have to deal with what I dealt with," she said. "I think they're saving lives."

Although similar bills have failed in the past, a ban this year would affect Columbia because it has five cameras online.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, sponsored the legislation. At the hearing, he said those cameras break state law.

Each year since 2007, legislators have tried to limit the use of cameras, but the governor hasn't signed any into law.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine, who was not present at the hearing, said he didn't see this time around being any different.

"Bills like this have been introduced in the past three years, and they haven't gotten anywhere," he said.

If this bill passes, there isn't a cancellation fee for Columbia if the cameras are outlawed, according to the city's contract with GATSO USA, the camera provider.

The cameras also bring in some revenue for the city. St. Romaine said until recently it was hard to judge the monetary impact because only two cameras were operating. In the past week, three more were activated.

During the last fiscal year, the cameras went into place too late to be included as part of the city budget, St. Romaine said. The city used the cameras to give tickets starting in September 2009, and City Council approved this year's budget in the same month.

But he said for the coming fiscal year, tickets from the cameras could be counted as revenue for the city in order to help offset losses in the budget created by processing the violations.

"There's a lot of administrative help tied to prosecuting those tickets," he said.

Many people who testified against the legislation during the hearing said cameras are used primarily to get cities money.

"A lot of these cities are circumventing state law to basically generate revenue," Arnold resident Bob Boyer said. "I think there's better methods of enforcement that can be used."

Despite this, St. Romaine said the goal for Columbia was not to raise funds.

"The effect of our program is to change peoples driving behavior and make sure they stop at red lights," he said.

Arnold was one of the first towns in Missouri to install red light cameras. Boyer said these cities are violating the law by not counting a red light violation as a moving violation.

As a result, the case can go to a civil court. Lembke said this violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because when a police officer issues a red light violation it is treated as a criminal case.

"What is the difference in the law being violated by a person who runs a red light and receives a ticket by a police officer and a person who runs a red light in the same car and receives a ticket from a red light camera?" he said.

Columbia, according to the contract, plans to have up to 16 cameras in operation. St. Romaine said he hopes in time, as more are added, people will forget which intersections have them.

"Regardless of whether or not it's a red light camera intersection, people will obey the law and stop," he said. "Period. That's the goal."

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