Final vote near in Senate to allow speed-trap cameras

Attempts to weaken bill defeated

House yet to act

March 26, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate moved one step closer yesterday to allowing automated radar cameras to snare drivers speeding through residential neighborhoods and school zones, brushing back several attempts to weaken the legislation.

A final vote could come as early as today on Senate Bill 455, which would allow the installation of cameras along suburban streets - cameras capable of issuing hundreds of tickets an hour to those going more than 10 mph over the speed limit.

If the speeding cameras are approved, local officials would decide whether to install them in their jurisdictions.

Similar legislation, House Bill 694, has not made it to the floor of the House of Delegates. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has a "predisposed opposition to speed cameras," said his spokeswoman, Shareese N. DeLeaver.

The radar cameras, similar to the cameras used in Maryland to catch drivers running red lights, would allow police to issue $100 speeding tickets through the mail..

"This does not hurt anybody who obeys the law," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, the Montgomery County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

Other proponents argued the cameras will be good revenue producers in tough financial times and will help do some of the work of law enforcement officers who have been called to military duty.

There was more discussion of the speed camera bill than any other before the Senate this year, with the exception of the slot machine legislation.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, gave several reasons for opposing the cameras, from "Big Brother is watching you" to the loss of the constitutional right to face one's accuser, which in this case would be a photograph of the speeding vehicle.

He said he understood there were arguments being made about increased safety - but then countered that speed cameras would increase the number of rear-end collisions as drivers unexpectedly slam on the brakes, just as he contended is the case where red-light cameras are in use.

"We could actually see more accidents from speed cameras than less," he said.

Sen. Leo Green, a Prince George's County Democrat, disputed that. "The positive [impact] of red-light cameras shows we're using modern technology to address a problem," he said.

Pipkin also cautioned the number of tickets issued could be monumental. In much-smaller Washington D.C., 432,000 citations were given in 16 months, he said. "What a crush we've got coming if we go forward," he said.

After failing to kill the bill outright, Pipkin tried to have the four counties he represents removed from the legislation, which also failed.

Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, quoted a Chinese proverb: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." He joined four fellow Democrats and nine Republicans in opposing the bill on a procedural vote.

"I see the abridging of many civil rights, and it's done in the name of safety," he said. "If we take the single step, the next step doesn't seem so difficult. We're beginning to chip away - just gently - but chipping away nevertheless at some of our basic systems of jurisprudence."

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