State studying red-light restrictions

Bill setting limitations on cameras has rules that are similar to Springfield's.

Tracy Swartz

Springfield and other Missouri cities are giving yellow-light approval to legislation that would impose multiple restrictions on red-light camera enforcement systems.

The legislation filed by a Cape Girardeau lawmaker would set limitations on city agreements with camera vendors and the penalties levied for violations.

Municipalities commend the bill as a compromise but said certain guidelines will require renegotiation for the legislation to garner a green light.

"We just think it overly restricts the operations of local government," said Gary Markenson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League, a nonprofit group overseeing city interests.

The city of Springfield was set to install its first red-light camera early this year, but this month's ice storms have frozen that plan. City spokeswoman Louise Whall said it's not known when a camera will be placed at the southbound approach of National Avenue and Battlefield Road.

Meanwhile, the legislation filed by Sen. Jason Crowell has been referred to the Senate judiciary committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Last year, Crowell opposed red-light cameras in legislation that saw intense opposition. He said he offered this bill in a compromise to set uniform standards.

"They are the minimal protections that residents of the state of Missouri deserve if we are going to deploy this technology," said Crowell, a Republican. "What is of the utmost importance is we have (standards so the cameras) are not used one way in the city of Arnold and one way in the city of Springfield."

Arnold, a small city south of St. Louis, was the first Missouri municipality to install a red-light camera system. Since November 2005, the city has issued 5,400 tickets for violations.

Arnold police said in the system's first year, the city saw a 19 percent drop in automobile accidents in affected intersections.

"It proves this system works," said Arnold Police Chief Robert Shockey.

Shockey praised the concept behind Crowell's bill but found fault with the fine limits. Under Crowell's bill, fine and court costs could not exceed $100.

Arnold's violations run about $95, and Shockey fears the bill would not allow for increasing court costs.

Springfield's fine is set at $100.

"It's something we're going to have to negotiate," said Springfield assistant city attorney Jacob Frank.

Crowell's bill also would:

- Require the system to produce at least two high-resolution color digital recorded images that would show the traffic control signal and rear license plate.

- Bar photographs of the driver's face and front license plate.

- Require cities to annually report information about revenue and notices to the Department of Transportation.

- Set limits on city compensation to private vendors.

- Prohibit officials from assessing points against alleged violators.

- Ban photo radar.

- Require clear markings of the roadway near the system.

The restrictions, if they became law, would take effect in August. Cities would only be allowed to issue warning violations in the first month after installing cameras.

"(The bill) tracks very closely with our own ordinance," Frank said. "We're going to go ahead whether or not this legislation passes."

Sen. John Griesheimer, a Washington Republican, also has filed legislation that would establish enforcement standards for red-light violations.

Griesheimer's bill would set fewer limitations than Crowell's bill. Griesheimer's legislation also awaits a hearing.

"It's another viewpoint to work out a compromise," Griesheimer said.