Legislators who learned this week that Baltimore will replace its troubled network of 83 speed cameras say the planned upgrade will do nothing to slow momentum in Annapolis toward tightening rules that govern the automated cameras across Maryland.
"Even with new cameras, there is going to be significant legislation," said Del. Curt S. Anderson, a Democrat who chairs the city's legislative delegation.
With a new General Assembly session starting Wednesday, state lawmakers are pushing ahead on multiple fronts. Legislation is expected that would punish private contractors for processing erroneous speed camera citations, require a way for motorists to be able to fact-check their tickets and bar contracts that pay companies a share of each $40 citation.
"In the hallways, in meetings, I have people coming up to me to say they have speed camera bills they're putting in," said Del. James Malone, who chairs a key House transportation subcommittee.
Malone, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he would host a meeting Tuesday to talk about reform legislation and clarify the state's existing speed camera law, passed in 2009. Once legislation is filed, he plans to have "a speed camera day where we'll line up all the speed camera bills and discuss them."
The flurry of proposals comes after a Baltimore Sun investigation documented erroneous speed readings at several city cameras, including one which clocked a Mazda at 38 mph while stopped at a red light. The Sun also found that area counties provide insufficient information on their citations to enable verification of the alleged speeds.
Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, is drafting legislation to fine private speed contractors $1,000 every time it's shown they improperly processed a ticket. The automated tickets can be issued to vehicles at least 12 mph over the speed limit in school zones and highway work zones.
"I want to send a very strong message to everybody that I believe the drivers of Maryland ought to be treated fairly," Cardin said.
Cardin also wants to ensure that motorists can check their tickets. One way, he says, would be to mandate detailed time stamps on the two photos that state law requires as evidence of speeding. The duration between the photos and the distance traveled can be used to compute the car's actual speed, which can then be compared to the alleged speed.
Unlike Baltimore City, whose speed camera system supplies motorists with two precise, time-stamped photos as evidence they broke the law, Baltimore County, Howard County and the State Highway Administration give motorists pictures with times rounded off to the second, proving only that the vehicle drove past the camera.
Despite the push to change the law in Annapolis, Cardin called it "a great start" for the city to announce that it would replace its cameras with newer models that have more sophisticated "tracking radar" technology, at an overall estimated cost of $450,000.
Malone praised Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, who last week pledged to reform the process of reviewing tickets by having more officers validate tickets prior to issuance. "The commissioner of Baltimore City knows there is a problem," Malone said.
Anderson's top speed camera-related priority is to clearly outlaw the so-called "bounty system" that pays contractors based on the volume of tickets. Since 2009, state law has barred any contractor that "operates" a system from being paid by the citation, but several counties and the city have gotten around that by saying the governments themselves operate the programs.
The city's prior contractor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, was paid up to $19.20 per $40 citation. Though the city has not finalized a contract with its new vendor, Brekford Corp., the city's transportation director, Khalil A. Zaied, says he wants to pay the company a flat fee regardless of how many tickets are produced.
Anderson expects Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to make sure he follows through.
"The mayor has always been saying this wasn't a money grab — her objective was safety," he said. "I believe her. Now that she's said it, let's show it. Let's make sure 'A,' the cameras aren't just stealing money from people and 'B,' whoever operates the cameras is doing it on a flat-rate basis as opposed to this bounty system."
The announcement that the city would upgrade its cameras was made Monday by Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes, who said in an email that "the existing cameras will be methodically replaced with new speed camera systems that utilize state-of-the-art, patented tracking radars."
The decision marks a change from what city officials told the Board of Estimates just two months ago. On Nov. 7, Jamie Kendrick, then a deputy transportation director, told the city's spending panel that his agency would not ask Brekford to install new cameras just to maintain existing locations.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke cheered news of the plan to replace cameras given the problems over the past couple of months.
She is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on a bill to require private school bus companies to report how many speed and red light camera tickets their drivers receive. She said she hopes the city's move to a new camera system will restore public confidence in the devices.
"I was worried that speed cameras were losing all their credibility," she said. "I think this will change that."
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