Regulation of traffic cameras fails in Legislature
Festus still waiting for 'state guidance' on camera use

By Chris Campbell
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 12:14 PM CDT

The proposed installation of traffic light enforcement cameras in Festus hit another roadblock Friday when the Missouri Legislature failed to pass a law regulating use of the cameras.

There is no current state law regulating the devices.

That set of circumstances has led local critics and supporters of red light cameras to call for guidance from the Legislature to clear up an increasingly muddled legal situation.Festus officials, who originally planned to install cameras in early 2008, have put those plans on indefinite hold.

The city of Arnold, which has used the cameras for more than two years, is facing court action as a result of its camera ticket program.

A suit filed in U.S. District Court earlier this year alleges Arnold's use of the cameras is "illegal and unconstitutional."

Festus entered into a contract with camera operator RedFlex Inc. earlier this year to provide cameras at several intersections, citing an unacceptable number of serious traffic collisions.

Two amendments added to a transportation bill in the House last week would have allowed for the use of cameras but would have rerouted all revenue earned to state schools.

The amendments would have also created exceptions for certain classes of drivers, such as those operating a horse and buggy.

Both amendments failed to make it out of committee negotiations before the legislative session ended on Friday.

Steve Stoll, Festus city administrator and a former state senator, disagrees with the idea of channeling money to state schools.

"Sending the money to the schools is a silly idea, because the schools won't get the money," he said. "It will just be deducted from their state aid. If the Legislature wants to control how the money is spent then that gets into local control."

Under the proposed set-up with RedFlex, Festus would derive a certain percentage of revenue generated by the tickets with the remainder going to the company.

Diverting funds may be a deal-breaker.

"There are certain costs in implementing something like this," Stoll said.

Stoll said the city needs some form of clarification from the state or the courts before it will proceed.

"We have a lot of questions that need answers before we move forward," he said.

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, introduced his own legislation this session that would have placed some restrictions on traffic camera systems, including police oversight and proof that the timing of the signal change isn't being "meddled" with.

"Police would have had to review the video, issue the ticket and the license plate would have to be readily visible," Roorda said.

Under most camera systems, the out-of-town operator, not police, reviews the camera footage.

While Roorda said he's "not crazy" about traffic cameras, he does believe they enhance safety at busy intersections.

"That's why I don't want to outlaw them," he said. "But the public has to have confidence in them."

While Roorda's efforts to establish standards for the systems failed to make it out the Legislature this session, he expects further efforts in the near future.

With many legislators seeking prohibitively strict regulations, finding common ground may be difficult.

"We're at an impasse," he said. "A lot of cities are afraid to sign contracts because of the possibility of legislation."