Speed-camera Referendum

Group Wants To Overturn State Legislation By Putting Question To Voters

April 17, 2009|By Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman | Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com and laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

A former Republican congressional candidate from Montgomery County is leading an effort to overturn by referendum Maryland's new speed-camera legislation.

Daniel F. Zubairi, a Bethesda businessman, has formed Maryland for Responsible Enforcement and notified the state elections board that the group will try to collect the more than 53,000 signatures required to put the question to voters in a coming election.

Zubairi said he intends to build a nonpartisan coalition that focuses on the largest counties but reaches across the state, noting that some Democrats crossed the aisle to oppose the Gov. Martin O'Malley-backed speed camera bill in the General Assembly. Zubairi contends that the cameras are an ineffective money grab that denies citizens the right to face their accuser. "It's the machine versus you," he said.

"Everyone seems to be with us on this," Zubairi added. "I'm pretty confident the citizens of Maryland are going to stand up against this if they are given the chance."

The General Assembly authorized speed-monitoring cameras near highway work zones and schools this year, though officials in some jurisdictions such as Anne Arundel County say they don't want the devices in their areas.

O'Malley, a Democrat, is expected to sign the measure into law, which would permit fines of $40 for people caught on camera driving at least 12 mph above the speed limit. The fine would be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle, and no penalty points would be assessed to drivers' licenses.

Under Maryland law, voters can overturn a law passed by the Assembly through referendum, but they cannot initiate laws. No more than half of the required signatures can be from one county or Baltimore City, said Jared DeMarinis, the director of candidacy at the elections board.

But a 2008 Court of Appeals ruling makes petitioning a law to referendum "a lot harder" because signatures on the petition must "identically" match the name in voter registration files, DeMarinis said.

The minimum number of valid signatures on a petition must equal 3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the previous election, DeMarinis said, or about 53,650. "We recommend exceeding that by 20 to 30 percent," DeMarinis said, "just because of the likelihood that many [signatures] are invalid."

The last successful petition drive was an attempt to overturn an early-voting law in 2006. But an appeals court ruling invalidated the law, making the referendum unnecessary.

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