Time runs out on speed cameras

O'Malley backed road-safety bill

foes saw civil liberties violation

General Assembly

April 09, 2008|By Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter | Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter,Sun reporters

Time went by too fast for legislation that would have authorized speed cameras throughout Maryland.

As the General Assembly adjourned its annual session at midnight Monday, legislative leaders said they ran out of time to fully debate and vote on Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal. The bill would have allowed state and local law enforcement agencies to deploy cameras to catch speeders in school and work zones and in residential neighborhoods.

The measure ran into substantial opposition from lawmakers who viewed the cameras as an encroachment on civil liberties and as a potential money grab by local jurisdictions.

O'Malley's administration had pushed the measure as a public-safety priority after several high-profile accidents in highway work zones.

"Sometimes this place is like the Yellow Submarine, you know - the Land of Holes," O'Malley said yesterday when asked about the bill's failure. "Sometimes things fall into holes."

The House of Delegates and the Senate passed different versions of the legislation in recent weeks but were able to hash out a compromise measure late Monday. Then word spread that Republican lawmakers might attempt to filibuster the bill, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he didn't have the votes needed in his chamber to break one. It takes a three-fifths majority to end debate.

"I'm sorry it didn't pass," Miller said. "But there was a lot of opposition on the floor."

The General Assembly authorized statewide use of speed cameras in 2003, but then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the bill. Two years later, the legislature approved use of the cameras in Montgomery County. Ehrlich vetoed that bill, too, but the legislature overrode him in 2006.

This year, the two chambers diverged over how fast a motorist would have to be driving before being issued a ticket and over whether some of the revenue that would be raised should go to state or local coffers.

With minutes left before midnight Monday - the hour at which the Assembly is required to adjourn - Miller did bring the speed-camera bill up for debate. But at the first sign of resistance from Republicans, Miller dropped the bill and moved on to other business.

As presiding officer, the Prince George's County Democrat has wide latitude in deciding when bills are debated.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, said, "There were a lot of motivated senators who would gladly have talked for a very long time" in order to run out the clock.

O'Malley said yesterday that he would try to push the issue again next year.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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