Traffic enforcement cameras raise constitutional, authority issues

Friday, March 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposed crackdown on speed radar cameras has brought a division between state and local regulations into the open.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Michael Corcoran, D-St. Louis County, would regulate the installation of speed radar cameras by allowing their use only in school, work and construction zones.

Corcoran said his hometown of St. Ann is the first municipality to use radar cameras to enforce speed limits. Since early March, the city has relied on radar cameras to issue speeders $100 fines. Corcoran said complaints have come from "non-residents using the road as a cut-through."

Corcoran's bill has drawn comparisons to similar proposals regarding red light cameras. Columbia passed an ordinance allowing the use of red-light cameras in August of 2006, but City of Columbia public relations director Toni Messina said the City Council has not discussed the possibility of using speed radar cameras in Columbia.

Without state-sanctioned guidelines regarding these technologies, a few legislators questioned whether city ordinances pertaining to automated enforcement systems, such the ones implemented in St. Ann and Columbia, could hold up in court. Currently, no state statute regarding automated traffic enforcement systems — such as red-light and speed radar cameras — exists. Instead, individual municipalities have created their own ordinances regarding use of the technology.

"A lack of statewide framework leaves ordinances [like these] ripe for court challenges," said Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart. Roorda, a former chief of police, said he was concerned with the "direct confliction" of a city acting outside of state law. He cited the state Supreme Court's recent ruling against the city of Springfield's red-light camera ticketing process as an example of the authority issue.

Some advocates say that safety concerns trump any shortcomings associated with automated traffic enforcement systems. Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, said while he is "normally not a big fan of [traffic enforcement] cameras," he has since changed his mind, and is now "very, very grateful" for the increased citizen safety.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, is sponsoring legislation to ban municipalities from using red-light enforcement cameras entirely, on the basis of "constitutional problems."

"Local municipalities, including Columbia, circumvent state statute with local ordinances that take a moving violation from a criminal offense to a non-moving violation, like a parking ticket," Lembke said.

He said if an officer pulls a driver over for running a red light, the driver is issued a moving violation, and receives two points against his or her license. If a red-light camera detects a car moving through a red light, however, the driver is cited with a non-moving violation, and does not receive a point penalty.

Lembke said this policy does not provide equal protection under the law.

"Whatever happened to 'innocent until proven guilty?'" he asked.

He added that merely limiting enforcement cameras to school, construction and work zones was not enough.

"The premise there is that these are places where we need additional safety," Lembke said. "Until we address the idea that we're actually treading on the constitutional rights of our citizens, I'm against it."

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