In a reversal, Senate rejects speed cameras

April 02, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

A day after the Maryland Senate gave a hearty preliminary approval to expanding the use of speed cameras in the state, the controversial measure failed by a single vote Wednesday night - a turn of events that shocked proponents and opponents alike.

Gov. Martin O'Malley backs speed cameras, and his aides say he will work to persuade some senators to change their minds as the House of Delegates nears approval of similar legislation.

"The governor is disappointed, as speed cameras represent a significant tool for law enforcement to improve safety on Maryland's roads and in our neighborhoods" said Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman.

But senators critical of the cameras, which they called an intrusion of privacy and a cash cow for local governments, rose one after another in opposition Wednesday. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, told his colleagues he had been wrongfully accused after a car using his old license plate was snapped by a camera in Washington. He said it took two months of irate phone calls to get out of the citation.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, read aloud a passage from the book 1984, including the famous line, "Big Brother is watching," before the legislation failed, 24-23. A day earlier, the Senate voted 26-19 to broaden a bill that initially allowed cameras just in construction zones to also include a half-mile radius around all schools - a plan closer to what the governor wanted.

Perhaps in an expression of confidence, few supporters of the bill rose to defend it when it came up for a final vote Wednesday. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat who suggested the school zone amendment, limited his remarks to saying that he had already said everything the day before.

A former Howard County executive and police chief, Robey argued earlier that the cameras can change driver behavior. Under the now-defeated Senate plan, owners of vehicles captured traveling 12 mph or more over the speed limit would have received a $40 citation in the mail. The proposal was patterned after a two-year-old pilot program in Montgomery County.

Several senators - including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller - voted Tuesday for the speed camera expansion but against the entire plan on Wednesday. Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he has always had reservations about cameras but voted in favor of adding school zones because he assumed the bill would pass anyway.

"The bill makes more sense with schools," Zirkin said, who voted against the measure Wednesday.

Some veteran senators were taken aback by the bill's failure.

"I really thought it would pass," said Sen. Thomas Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who voted for the measure.

Minority Leader Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican from Howard and Carroll counties, said he was surprised by the vote. "Very few people stood up to support the bill, and I started to think we had a chance to kill it," said Kittleman, who voted against the bill. "I thought, 'Holy cow, this might fail.' "

This wasn't the first time speed cameras legislation took an unexpected turn. Last year, the bill appeared poised for passage, but Miller refused to allow a vote in the session's final hours. He wouldn't comment last night.

Baltimore Sun reporters Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

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