Stoplight cameras get a 'go' Delegates approve measure targeting red-light runners

Senate likely to follow

House also votes its approval of tuition savings plan

March 21, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers David Folkenflik and Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

Run a red light and get a ticket in the mail.

That could soon become a fact of life for Maryland drivers as the General Assembly appears poised to enact legislation allowing the use of cameras to record license tags of red-light runners.

On a vote of 85-48 last night, the House of Delegates approved the camera bill, which had been sought by police from around the state. The Maryland Senate is expected to pass a similar measure today, and final approval is considered likely before the Assembly ends its 90-day session April 7.

Meanwhile, in other action:

The House of Delegates approved a measure proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to create tuition savings accounts to help Maryland parents put away money for college bills. A similar measure has passed the Senate, all but ensuring final approval.

Assembly leaders, however, appear to have decided not to pass the governor's HOPE scholarship plan for middle-class families, a proposal deemed too expensive by many lawmakers. Key legislators say they intend to refer the matter to summer study.

Opponents of the controversial vehicle emissions dynamometer exam won another round last night when a House committee approved a measure to keep the test voluntary. Just as the full Senate did earlier this week, the committee defied threats that such action could endanger some $98 million in federal road-construction funds.

A broad coalition -- ranging from police agencies and county governments to insurance companies -- supported the bill to authorize the use of cameras to penalize red-light violators.

"There appears to be an explosion in the last five or six years of people running red lights," said Del. Gerald J. Curran, a Baltimore Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor. "The police agencies throughout the state want this technology to find these people."

Under the legislation, cameras could be posted by police at intersections to record the rear license tags of vehicles running through a red light. The police agency would send a citation to the owner of the vehicle.

The citation would be similar to a parking ticket and would carry a fine of up to $100, but add no points to a person's driving record. The owner of the car could go to court to contest the fine if, for example, someone else was driving at the time of the violation.

Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat, said red lights are a big problem in the city but voted against the measure, saying it didn't answer questions about how such appeals would be handled.

"They did not clarify how that is supposed to be dealt with," Davis said.

Also last night, the House approved by a vote of 124-13 Glendening's prepaid tuition plan -- a measure that legislators had pushed for several years.

Under the legislation, Maryland families could pay tuition bills in later years by setting aside the equivalent of today's bills now. Those bills are currently about $3,200 a year at the University of Maryland System's 11 undergraduate campuses.

State investors would be asked to generate income from the families' payments to make up any difference.

Aides to the governor have projected that the parents of a baby born in January 1998 could make monthly payments of $133, and, in return, the fund would pay the equivalent of tuition and mandatory fees at a public four-year Maryland campus when the child entered college.

"This is a good bill," said Del. Mathew J. Mossburg, a Montgomery County Republican. "Your constituents will love you for it."

A spokesman for the governor said Glendening was pleased with the House's action and optimistic that the bill would receive final Assembly passage.

"Marylanders will have another tool to help make college education more affordable and accessible for more Marylanders," said Raymond C. Feldmann, a spokesman for the governor.

The governor's office was not so happy with a House committee's vote last night to keep the dynamometer test voluntary -- possibly setting up a showdown with federal authorities.

By a vote of 13-7, the Environmental Matters Committee passed a measure identical to one already approved by the Senate. The bill goes now to the full 141-member House, where its prospects are unclear.

"Now we've got to get ready for the floor fight," said Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll County Republican who voted for the bill in committee. "I'm enthusiastic about it."

Without the legislation, the dynamometer test would become mandatory in June for all motorists whose cars go through the required biennial vehicle emissions inspection.

But many motorists have objected to the dynamometer test as an intrusion of their automotive privacy. During the test, an attendant revs the car to driving speed while its wheels spin on a treadmill-like device.

Although the test is not required, more than 40 percent of vehicle owners have volunteered to put their cars through it -- thanks in part to a $2 discount on the $12 emissions testing fee -- according to state officials.

Making the dynamometer mandatory is necessary to satisfy federal clean-air laws, according to the Glendening administration. Failing to do so could imperil as much as $98 million in federal road funds.

State environmental Secretary Jane T. Nishida said legislators are forgetting an important point -- the vehicle emissions inspections are designed to reduce pollution-related health problems.

"This is more than just a federal compliance issue," she said. "This is a health issue."

Pub Date: 3/21/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.