Speed-camera bill brought back to life, OK'd

General Assembly 2009

April 03, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

The Maryland Senate gave final approval Thursday to a broad speed-camera program it had voted down a day earlier. Under the measure, backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, speed cameras could be placed within a half-mile of any school and in highway work zones.

The Senate's reversal came after key leaders, including President Thomas V. Mike Miller, endorsed a procedural move that gave the dead bill a new lease on life. Miller voted against the cameras Wednesday night, and in favor of them Thursday morning. Three other Democrats also changed their votes.

"The governor is thankful to the Senate for reconsidering this important public safety legislation," said Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman, adding that the governor "did what's done when you want to get something reconsidered. You find votes."

If the House of Delegates adopts a similar plan as expected, and differences can be resolved before the session ends April 13, any county or municipality can choose to have the cameras, which are typically installed and operated by a private vendor but overseen by police employees. Under the Senate plan, owners of vehicles snapped going 12 mph or more above the speed limit would receive a $40 citation in the mail. Owners can contest the citations in court, and no points would be assessed against licenses.

Republicans concerned about government intrusion attempted a filibuster Thursday to block the final decision, but a super-majority of Democrats voted to limit debate to 20 minutes.

In addition to Miller, other Democratic senators who switched their votes were Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County, Bobby A. Zirkin of Baltimore County and Nancy J. King of Montgomery County.

Miller said he changed his mind partly out of respect for Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat and former county executive and police chief of Howard County who sees the cameras as a law enforcement tool.

After the bill failed by a single vote Wednesday, Robey said he received calls from "eight or nine" fellow senators, some of whom apologized for voting against the bill and said they would try to have the measure reconsidered.

Miller said he was most concerned about criticism that the cameras would serve as a "cash cow" for local governments, but said he was comforted by a Senate-approved restriction to limit local government revenues to the cost of camera operations plus 10 percent of revenue, to be used for pedestrian and safety initiatives. Additional money would go back to the state general fund.

King acknowledged that she changed to a "yes" vote after hearing Wednesday night from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and other county leaders and residents. Their pleas were enough to overcome her personal distaste for the cameras, which are allowed now only in Montgomery through a pilot program. "I hate them," she said, adding that she was "lobbied hard enough to change."

Zirkin said his "primary constituent" - his wife - persuaded him to vote in favor of the cameras by urging him to think of their young daughter's safety. Zirkin said his concern is not the cameras themselves but with "the possibility of proliferation. I just don't want them everywhere."

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

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