NASHVILLE — Senators voted 32-0 Monday to impose new restrictions on Chattanooga and other local governments using traffic cameras to nab motorists running red lights.
The amended bill, which now goes to the House, would require motorists to be notified of violations by first-class mail. If the fine is not paid within 30 days, a second first-class letter would have to be sent before anyone could be assessed late fees or additional fees if a collection agency is used.
“I don’t like ’em. I don’t like ’em at all,” said Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, the bill’s sponsor, later adding, “It is not about safety. It’s about dollars.”
Other provisions of the bill would require that a law enforcement official view the video evidence to ensure a violation occurred. Chattanooga officials say that is being done.
The bill also would set forth several exemptions for vehicles and avenues of relief for car rental agencies and car owners who swear in affidavits that someone else was driving their vehicle.
“I guess if they want to do that (require two first-class letters,) I don’t have any strong feelings about it except it potentially could cost every jurisdiction more money to do that,” Chattanooga traffic engineer John Van Winkle said.
Sen. Burchett said he has another bill that would require jurisdictions to set the timing of yellow lights according “to what the engineer says and not the treasurer.”
He cited a recent case in Chattanooga where 176 motorists were ticketed for running an improperly timed traffic light at M.L. King Boulevard and Pine Street. The motorists are being sent refunds.
Mr. Van Winkle said a “logic problem” with the computer system caused the problem.
In other action:
n The Senate voted 26-1 for a bill by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, that would boost penalties for nonfederally activated Tennessee National Guard members who go AWOL from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor.
It would change punishments from jail sentences of up to 30 days and a $50 fine to sentences of up to six months and up to $500 in fines. Most senators dropped opposition after Sen. Watson said the bill would match punishments for dereliction of duty.
n Senators voted 22-6 and sent a bill to the governor that would allow the Fox Cay Restaurant in Hamilton County to seek a liquor license under the state’s “premier type resort or club.”
The Fox Cay bill, sponsored by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, would permit restaurants in unincorporated areas to seek liquor licenses. Sen. Watson, who represents the Highway 58 area where Fox Cay is located, voted present, which counted as a no vote.
n The House voted 91-0 to drop the minimum age required to donate blood from 17 years old to 16. Parental or guardian consent would be required by the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. The bill remains in the Senate.