State could allow speed cameras

County against them but city considers use

By LIAM FARRELL, Staff Writer
Published 04/03/09
Drivers may not have to worry about speed cameras on county roads if the General Assembly allows them statewide, but Annapolis could be a different matter.

The state Senate passed a bill yesterday that would allow speed cameras in work zones and school zones, which encompass areas within a half-mile of a school. A notice of a $40 fine would be mailed to the owner of a vehicle caught traveling 12 mph or more above the speed limit in those locations - regardless of who was driving.
The governing body of a jurisdiction would have to approve the cameras before any could be installed. After the Senate vote, County Executive John R. Leopold said he would not support any attempt to place them in Anne Arundel County.
His remarks echoed those of many other Republican legislators, who are uncomfortable with proliferating government cameras.
"I do not subscribe to the 'Big Brother,' George Orwell philosophy of traffic enforcement," Leopold said.
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the city would probably propose using the cameras in places with speeding problems, such as Duke of Gloucester Street and Farragut Road, which are both within a half-mile of a school.
"There are concerns with heavy-footed people," she said. Speeding "can put in jeopardy young people in key neighborhood areas."
The speed camera bill would take effect on Oct. 1, so unless the city acts quickly, the decision could go to Moyer's successor, who might have a different stance. Moyer is in the final year of her two terms.
Queen Anne's County Sheriff R. Gery Hofmann said no discussions on speed cameras have taken place with the county commissioners, but he supports using them in "limited doses" when data about speed complaints and accidents call for greater scrutiny.
One possible location would be Stevensville's Love Point Road, which runs past Kent Island High School, Sheriff Hofmann said.
A speed camera "creates the presence of safety for the community," he said. "It can be used as a valuable tool."
Gov. Martin O'Malley is hoping the legislature finalizes his bill before the session adjourns on April 13. Last year the House passed a version, but the Senate did not. The measure has been a priority for the governor this session.
"It is certainly a positive step," said Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for the governor.
Although the Senate killed the bill Wednesday on a 24-23 tally, it later reconsidered and passed the measure, 27-20.
Sens. John Astle, D-Annapolis, Ed DeGrange, D-Glen Burnie, Janet Greenip, R-Crofton, and Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, voted against the bill both times. Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-College Park, voted for the legislation on both occasions.
Much criticism of the legislation, modeled after what is currently allowed only in Montgomery County, centers on whether the cameras are really about public safety or revenue.
The bill tries to address that concern. After using money generated by the cameras to recover the program's cost, local jurisdictions could take only an amount of fines equaling 10 percent of the total revenue they collect annually from all sources.
Any fine revenue over that would go to the state.
But a $40 fine mailed after the fact is not as strong a deterrent as being pulled over by a police officer for a more substantial ticket, said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Elkton.
"Where is the immediate tie to the behavior taking place?" he said.
Although residential areas were taken out of the bill, Simonaire said during debate this week that allowing cameras within a half-mile of schools means that plenty of residential streets will be eligible.
"You basically got a residential bill back in here," he said.
Proponents of the bill frequently cited the experience in Montgomery County, where the first year of operation netted a 25 percent reduction of speeding in school zones.
"Do you care about our children? It is that simple," said Sen. James Robey, D-Howard. "I am not afraid of new technology."