Md. Approves Use Of Speed Cameras
Veto of Montgomery Bill Overturned
By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006; B04
Montgomery County will become the first jurisdiction in the state to use cameras to catch speeders in residential neighborhoods and near its schools, under a measure that won final passage yesterday in the General Assembly.
The Democrat-controlled Senate approved the speed cameras for limited locations, overriding a veto by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who called the legislation an unnecessary government intrusion and warned that it would have "profound statewide ramifications."
Maryland's largest county joins the District and a handful of other states, such as New York and Colorado, that have used the automated cameras.
The 31 to 16 vote in the Senate was hailed by proponents as a critical protection for pedestrians.
"Simply trying to cross the street in Montgomery County has become a death-defying act," said Del. William Bronrott (D-Montgomery), one of the chief advocates in the House of Delegates, where the governor's veto was undone last week. "This was about saving lives and restoring safety and civility on the streets closest to our schools and homes."
The new law, which takes effect in 30 days, will allow the county to put up cameras in residential neighborhoods and near schools where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. Drivers caught traveling 10 mph or more above the limit will be fined as much as $40, with no points assessed on the driver's license, and the money generated by the tickets must be used to pay for public safety, under the bill's provisions.
Republican opponents in the Senate voted yesterday to sustain Ehrlich's veto, echoing his concerns about privacy and saying the bill was more about raising money than about public safety.
"We should be ready for a barrage of these bills," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick). "We don't want to go down the road of Big Brother watching you all the time."
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said he shared their concerns about invading the privacy of Maryland residents, but not in this instance.
"We're not talking about George Bush listening to your private telephone conversations," he said on the Senate floor, in a reference to the president's authorization of eavesdropping on the phone calls of people with suspected ties to terrorism. "We're talking about an activity that takes place in public."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who has long pressed for the measure, said yesterday that he hoped the cameras would persuade people to slow down.
"We're asking people to not run red lights and to drive at the speed limit or below. They're not doing that," he said. "If you don't speed, you've got nothing to worry about."
Bronrott and others tried unsuccessfully in 2003 to enact legislation to allow the use of the cameras statewide. The measure, which Ehrlich also vetoed, was prompted by a task force that found pedestrian safety was the top concern in Montgomery County. In a typical year, Bronrott said, more people are killed trying to cross the street in Montgomery than by homicide.
When he vetoed the Montgomery bill last May, Ehrlich said it would establish a bad precedent for other counties and affect motorists from other jurisdictions who drive through the area each day.
In his veto letter, Ehrlich called it "another step toward the pervasive use of cameras by the government to monitor and regulate the conduct of its people. There may be times when this type of surveillance is appropriate. I am, however, reluctant to approve its use in the absence of extraordinary circumstances."
A spokesman for the governor said Ehrlich was disappointed yesterday and continues to believe that the measure opens the door for other jurisdictions.
"Before you know it, it's a statewide bill," said press secretary Henry Fawell.
The General Assembly has reversed 15 of Ehrlich's vetoes this session -- the most in decades. There were no veto overrides during Parris N. Glendening's eight years as governor and only two during William Donald Schaefer's. As Democrats, they had majorities in the General Assembly.