Police chief says tickets essential for public safety not money
* By WILL SENTELL
* Advocate Capitol News Bureau
* Published: Apr 22, 2008 - Page: 1A - UPDATED: 12:15 a.m.
* Page 1 of 2
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A bill that backers said would gradually end small-town speed traps that enrich local treasuries was rejected Monday by a House panel.
Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston and sponsor of the bill, argued that “excessive” speed limit enforcement in Louisiana is a national embarrassment and a way for tiny towns to get rich.
“This is not about public safety,” Downs said.
“It really isn’t. It’s about money, and lots and lots of it,” he added.
Law enforcement officials and others said they were merely enforcing speed limit laws.
“I am not ashamed of anything we have done in the town of Washington,” said Joseph Pitre, mayor of the St. Landry Parish community.
Washington ranked 14th in the state in its percentage of revenue from fines and forfeitures, according to a report last year by the Legislative Auditor’s office. The town’s total was 51 percent of its revenue, the report said.
The House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works rejected Downs’ bill after nearly three hours of discussion. The vote was six “yes” and 10 “no.”
The legislation is House Bill 1050. It would set limits on the amount of revenue from speeding tickets that communities could collect.
Under the bill, those with populations of 1,000 and less would have been limited to 35 percent of their revenue from the enforcement of speeding laws.
The ceiling would be 20 percent for towns with 1,000 to 3,000 residents and 10 percent for those with 10,000 residents and more.
Downs said that, even with his bill, authorities could keep writing tickets but that excess revenue would be turned over to other areas, including police training statewide.
Downs also said his bill was based mostly on a law in Oklahoma, and that states that surround Louisiana have enacted similar measures.
He said the absence of State Police, the Louisiana Sheriffs Association and the Louisiana Police Jury Association in the debate shows that the issue is revenue, not public safety.
Downs also said that, once towns have to turn over excess speeding ticket revenue, they would lose interest in what he called excessive crackdowns.
Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry countered that speeding tickets are a public safety issue and sometimes lead to drug and other charges.
“It is keeping our streets safe,” Landry said. “It is doing what our supporters and voters asked us to do.”
Landry is part of the legislative delegation for the Louisiana Police Chiefs Association.
The report said Gonzales relies on fines and forfeitures for less than 2 percent of its revenue. It said the percentage is less than 1 percent for Baton Rouge.
Woodworth Mayor David Butler, whose town ranked seventh in the survey by the Legislative Auditor’s Office, said while his town has about 1,800 residents it sometimes swells well beyond that as the site of three religious organizations.
The issue triggered a wide range of reactions from lawmakers.
Rep. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, said his experiences with speed traps “turn my stomach.
“The attitude was just very, very nasty,” Franklin said.
Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part had a different view of the bill.
“If you are speeding, you are speeding,” St. Germain said.