Radar camera bill OK'd by House

Final vote may occur tomorrow

residential, school zones targeted

April 06, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates approved a bill yesterday that authorizes automated speed radar cameras in residential neighborhoods and school zones, after the objections of some lawmakers worried about an overly intrusive government fell flat.

Late yesterday, a Senate committee agreed to the latest House version of the bill, meaning final passage could occur during the Assembly's last day tomorrow.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., however, does not like the concept of the cameras - which would collect digital images of cars and allow authorities to send fines of up to $100 to owners of vehicles traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit.

"The governor has a predisposed opposition to both speed and red-light cameras," said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver. "This is a bill in particular where a lot of conservatives have expressed their opposition."

Proponents of the measure say it creates a useful tool to prevent unsafe drivers who threaten children and pedestrians in residential areas.

"I hate speed bumps, and the ones in my neighborhood are so horrible," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democratic and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. "People realize we don't have the money to have more policemen, and residential areas and school zones are not the priority of police."

Howard County could be one of the first in the area to use the machines if the law takes effect.

County officials have said the cameras would be useful around schools, and statistics collected by Howard police this year showed that about 25 percent of drivers in school zones were traveling at more than 10 mph over the limit.

The bill was the subject of intense debate in the House and Senate. Delegates spent hours over the past several days discussing its merits, and supporters fought off a series of amendments yesterday to alter or weaken the proposal.

Republicans grew so fed up with the idea that Del. Richard K. Impallaria of Baltimore County offered an amendment yesterday that would have required "a listing of the names of the state legislators" who supported the legislation on the back of citations.

"Seldom is freedom lost in one fell swoop," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., of Cecil County. "It's lost one item at a time."

Under the measure, the cameras - similar to red-light cameras in use in many areas - would be installed only after local officials authorized them. They would be limited to areas with posted speed limits no greater than 35 mph.

Violators would receive civil fines similar to parking tickets; they would not amass points against their drivers' licenses or be subject to increases in their insurance premiums.

The House altered the bill to require that the municipalities that install the cameras use the money generated by them to pay for public safety purposes, including fire and rescue services, communications and overtime for public safety and health providers. The money would be placed in a "homeland security fund."

The House bill would also require that violators be issued warnings rather than fines for the first 45 days of the cameras' operation, a grace period of sorts for those passing through the neighborhoods.

Senators said those changes were acceptable. With the session set to expire, "we don't have time to do anything other than concur, I think," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and Judicial Proceed- ings Committee chairman.

Legislative analysts say only a few states have authorized speed radar cameras. The District of Columbia has five cameras mounted on vehicles that can be moved around the city, and it has collected more than $20 million since August 2001, analysts report.

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