A drive to put Maryland's new speed-camera law to a statewide vote failed to gather the necessary signatures for a referendum, prompting local officials to immediately vow Monday to deploy speed cameras in the Baltimore area.
Maryland for Responsible Enforcement, the group organizing the petition drive, said it fell fewer than 2,000 signatures short of the required 17,883 signatures - or one-third of the total needed to put a referendum on the ballot in the next election. The group had to meet that initial threshold by midnight Sunday.
The speed-camera bill now takes effect in October. It will allow local jurisdictions to put the devices in highway work zones and near schools. Drivers caught traveling at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit can be ticketed and fined up to $40.
Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced a bill Monday that would implement speed cameras in the city. Baltimore County Police Department Chief James W. Johnson convened a news conference to promote speed cameras as a way to track reckless drivers and prevent fatalities. County officials said they have not determined how a program would be implemented.
"Our citizens want motorists to slow down," Johnson said outside the Cromwell Valley Elementary School. Pointing to a red pickup truck passing the front of the school, where the speed limit is 25 mph, the chief said, "Look at that guy. You think he's doing 25? No way!"
Justin Shuy and Daniel Zubairi, co-chairs of the referendum group, said they were hampered by "burdensome" guidelines that allow little time before the first deadline and that impose strict standards for signatures. They said they would assist citizens who want to challenge speed cameras in their jurisdictions.
"Over the past few weeks many Marylanders have expressed their utter disdain ranging from anger over it being another tax, to concern over an increased big-brother 1984 police state," they said in a statement. "This results in so many Marylanders being denied a voice in their government by not being able to hold their elected officials responsible for questionable and unpopular policy."
It's no surprise that the city is acting quickly to establish a speed-camera program. City officials had pushed a separate bill this winter in Annapolis that would have allowed speed cameras in Baltimore even if the statewide effort had failed. The 2010 city budget, which begins July 1, includes $7.1 million in anticipated speed camera revenue.
Unlike California and some other states, Maryland does not allow residents to seek changes to laws and policies through referendum. Petitioners only have the right to seek to overturn laws passed by the General Assembly. 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.
- Sun reporters Julie Bykowicz and Nick Madigan contributed to this article.