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Proposed Law Would Curtail Palm Coast’s Ability to Convict Red-Light Camera Violators

| March 1, 2013

Red-light cameras have become cities' ATM machines. (c FlaglerLive)

Red-light cameras have become cities’ ATM machines. (c FlaglerLive)

A Florida state senator Thursday filed a bill that, should it become law, would not ban local governments’ very unpopular use of automated spy-and-snap red-light cameras, but would severely curtail their cash profitability. For cities like Palm Coast and the companies that run the cameras, such a law would have effects similar to a ban.

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Two weeks ago, in another illustration of the cameras’ unpopularity, a legislative committee approved a proposal to completeley repeal the use of the cameras. “We’re willing to compromise the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution: the right against self-incrimination for self-perceived safety,” that bill’s sponsor, Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said. “That’s the road we’re going down. We’re willing to tell somebody, ‘You are guilty until proven innocent.’” The new proposal directly addresses that issue, among others.

Red-light cameras in Palm Coast and elsewhere are primarily a way to generate revenue for cities and companies like American Traffic Solutions, which runs Palm Coast’s cameras at no cost to the city. Palm Coast and ATS are just completing the installation of 52 cameras in town, up from 10 until last year.

Palm Cast is guaranteed $700 a month from each camera regardless of the number of tickets it either generates or successfully prosecutes. The only way for the company to make the cameras pay is to generate. That’s $36,400 a month in new revenue, or $437,000 a year. City Council members claim the red-light cameras are there to improve safety at intersection. But council members have no reliable or scientific data about intersection safety (with or without cameras). They have clearer data about their finances, and the easy money the cameras generate.

But for the cameras to be profitable for ATS, the company must generate a significant number of tickets—over and above the numbers necessary to pay Palm Coast’s share, and the numbers necessary to pay for the state’s share. In 2011, a new state law went into effect ending local cities illegal use of such cameras, which until then had circumvented a state law prohibiting cameras by classifying them as civil, “code enforcement” devices. The new law allowed the scheme to persist, but it also standardized and regulated the cameras’ uses, and the fines they may generate. A ticket must be $158, with the state taking $78 of that, leaving the rest for local governments to split between themselves and the companies that administer the cameras.

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The proposed law, by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Palm Beach, would do three things that would potentially curtail the cash gravy train.

First, it would explicitly shift the burden of proof that a driver has run a red light to the local governments imposing the fine. For now, a driver is presumed guilty until he or she proves her innocence before a magistrate—a constitutional violation many a lawyer has taken advantage of to beat such fines on behalf of clients, and to take red-light companies to court in class-action suits. (“The burden of proving guilt shall rest upon the governmental entity bringing the charge,” the proposed law reads. “A person appearing in any hearing under this section may not be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself.”)

Second, it would require local governments to produce actual human beings at hearings where a driver is contesting a ticket. “Any evidence obtained from such device must be authenticated in court by the person receiving or processing the evidence, any person having reviewed such evidence in order to make a decision to issue a notice of violation, and any person who issued the notice of violation or traffic citation,” the bill says. That means Palm Coast and ATS would have to have representatives involved in the levying of fines to defend their actions in court. That may not necessarily be an insurmountable obstacle, but it creates another vulnerability for lawyers and drivers to exploit, and another way to erode a city’s revenue.
Third, the proposed law would end the imposition of any fine when it involves a violation by way of a right-turn on red, one of the most contentious manners in which tickets are triggered. The proposal makes outright illegal to issue either a notice of violation or a citation for right-hand turns on red.

Together, the new requirements would diminish conviction rates and could, by attrition, make it much more difficult for companies like ATS to make back the money they’re investing to run the system, and splitting with governments to be in business. But the red-light camera lobby is very powerful.

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41 Responses for “Proposed Law Would Curtail Palm Coast’s Ability to Convict Red-Light Camera Violators”

  1. well says:

    if everyone would just stop running red lights then they would have no revenue. stop running red lights immedietly.

       2 likes

  2. ha says:

    at complex:

    i flick off those cameras getting off the interstate when they start to snapping….lol

       0 likes

  3. markingthedays says:

    It seems no one thinks they should have to stop at red lights. I don’t like school zones. From now on I will drive through them as fast as i can then bitch about the ticket I receive because of it. Maybe if I can prove that school zones don’t enhance public safety, they will abolish them altogether. Then we can abolish speed limits too! That way none of us will be inconvenienced by having to be considerate of the safety of others. I hope you all get t-boned by a red light runner.

       0 likes

  4. Maryjoe says:

    “The proposed law would end the imposition of any fine when it involves a violation by way of a right-turn on red, one of the most contentious manners in which tickets are triggered. The proposal makes outright illegal to issue either a notice of violation or a citation for right-hand turns on red.”

    THAT would be huge. I hope that part of it gets passed. :)

       3 likes

  5. JR says:

    A rose is but a rose by any other name and these red light cameras are a rouse and see them for what they are.
    I wouldn’t mind if they were a few of them but 52 in this small county is clearly over kill. Don’t kid yourself, this is nothing more than a scheme to make money and nothing to do with one’s safety.

       6 likes

  6. Mel Bronson says:

    The politicians have never showed their hatred, disregard and loathing for “their constituancy” that when they rammed this photo traffic light ticket SCAM down our throats.

    I sincerely hope this bill DISEMBOWELS the corrupt, greedy and HATEFUL politicians. They should ALL BE VOTED OUT OF OFFICE!

       8 likes

  7. Reality Check says:

    This will not go away until a Judge decides it will, Palm Coast has a cash cow and they know it, $700 per month per camera guaranteed. Do the math $36,400 per month and $436,800 per year and you have not even figured in the fines yet. This is free money for a city that spends more than they have; only in government job can you not make your goals yet keep your job. The worst part is when election time comes the bitching will be out of control yet no one will show up to vote, we have the power of change and it is time to use it. Why pay it, it is a code enforcement issue, if you do not own a home how will they come after you, bring them to the next council meeting ball them up and all at once throw them at the council right there on TV. If nothing else that would make a great reality TV show, sorry I just needed a laugh.

       5 likes

  8. Interesting Thought says:

    Would be amusing and interesting if someone just sprayed painted the cameras lense…..or took the metal pole and sold it as scrap metal.

       5 likes

  9. Ben Dover says:

    I just read these greedy low lifes want to get a license to sell booze in central park , yeah they are all about SAFETY , hoping you`ll get drunk and forget about the camera`s, can not believe the audacity of this pack of wolves, wonder what fund they`ve raided now, that they actually want to risk a law suit for getting residents drunk and sending them off in their cars, they would not allow a woman to sell cupcakes from her house,, but they want to sell booze in the park, just when you think they cant get any slimier, they prove you wrong, this group is as dirty as they come.

       7 likes

    • funny says:

      Hey ben dover, they arent going to have to raid any other funds… I think they did the math and if 10 more people run a red light this month then theyll have enough money to go by the license!

         1 likes

    • resident says:

      X 2 !!

         1 likes

  10. Kenz says:

    I just moved here from a very small town in GA that only had 1 RED LIGHT! Since Ive lived here (only a month) I have already ran 2 red lights and believe I am going to receive 2 red light tickets!!! How long will it take until they are mailed to my address??

       0 likes

  11. Kenz says:

    oh, and will they have the photos on the violation ticket?

       0 likes

  12. It could be worse. You could live in Bunnell where we have 4 way stops at every second intersection.

       1 likes

  13. B says:

    STOP RUNNING RED LIGHTS, AND COME TO A “COMPLETE” STOP BEFORE TURNING…….AND YOU WON’T GET A DAMN TICKET!

    It is plain and simple…….obey the damn laws, and the cameras end up useless to ATS, and the city gets the least amount of money possible. When the cameras begin to cost ATS money by having them up, maybe they will just take them down! But if we use our heads, and actually follow the laws of the roads……the cameras will just fade away when they begin costing the city money!

       0 likes

  14. Michael says:

    My family went without me due to work to vacation in Florida. I received one of your fine tickets because I am the registered owner of the vehicle. I sent a notarized letter stating that I was two states away and not in possession of the vehicle. According to Lilly at the city office, I must tell them who was driving at the time of the incident. Several different family members could have been driving so I can not answer that question. I was advised that according to Florida State Law that the ticket was my responsibility. I explained that that does not make it right that I am guilty by default unless I prove the “states” case. That should not nor is it my responsibility to prove the case for the state. I explained that if they were taking photos of the drivers then we would know who was driving but that does not seem to benefit the city or the private company.

    I will probably just pay the $158 bribe money to avoid the potential of a bench warrant being issued for me one day. It is a shame for the business that need tourism because we will be taking our vacations elsewhere in the future.

       2 likes

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