Bill by New Orleans legislators would turn off traffic cameras

by Ed Anderson, The Times-Picayune Thursday April 16, 2009, 10:27 AM

BATON ROUGE -- City- and parish-operated cameras that monitor speeding and traffic-signal violations would be unplugged starting Jan. 1 under a bill filed by a New Orleans legislator.

House Bill 480 by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, would prohibit cities and parishes from setting up cameras to monitor traffic violations. Some parishes that have already set them up have generated millions of dollars in revenues but have come under fire from critics who claim the systems are unconstitutional and violate the privacy of vehicle occupants.
As of late last year, Jefferson Parish, one of the first in the state to start using traffic-camera enforcement, had collected about $11 million in fines from almost 144,000 tickets. The money has been frozen in an escrow account while litigation involving the constitutionality of the program proceeds.
Richmond could not be reached for comment about the bill, which has been assigned to the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works for hearing.
As drafted, the proposal would prohibit local governments from setting up camera traffic-enforcement programs, passing local laws to do so or collecting fines or fees from the automated system.
The bill states that systems in operation now must end by Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, has filed House Bill 254, authorizing local governments to set up traffic cameras to catch scofflaws who run red lights. The bill sets a civil fine for violations: as much as $150 for a first conviction and as much as $175 for subsequent violations and convictions.
Lambert's bill -- also assigned to the House transportation panel -- states half of the fines collected would be sent to the state treasury and used for highway "safety enhancement projects" in the areas where the fines are collected.
On another traffic-related bill, Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace, has filed House Bill 499 to require all passengers in a vehicle to use seat belts or face a first-offense fine of $25. State law now requires the driver and front-seat passengers to buckle up, but it does not apply to back-seat passengers.
Jamie Ainsworth, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said a recent survey indicated that between 20 percent and 22 percent of back-seat passengers in a vehicle used seat belts. "We continue to see a climb in unbelted fatalities," she said.
Ainsworth said 645 of the 699 fatalities recorded in Louisiana last year resulted from not wearing seat belts. She said that number included both front- and back-seat passengers.
So far, 720 bills have been filed in advance of the April 27 session -- 566 in the House and 154 in the Senate. Friday is the deadline to pre-file bills. After the session begins, each lawmaker can file five additional fiscal or local bills through May 6.
Some of the other bills filed Wednesday included:
-- House Bill 339 by Rep. Tom Willmott, R-Kenner, requiring all public schools to provide at least 30 minutes of instruction about the state's "safe-haven" laws to 10th- and 12th-graders. The law spells out that a parent can drop a newborn off at a hospital, police station or fire station without questions being asked. It also has a process by which the parent can recover the child. Willmott said he wants to reach "potential young parents" to let them know before they graduate from high school that the safe-haven law exists and how it operates as a way to possibly reduce the number of young parents abusing or killing newborns. He said the instruction time would not apply to charter schools.
-- House Bill 482 by Rep. Sam Little, R-Bastrop, to allow taxpayers to claim as a deduction on their state income taxes the amount paid to the Louisiana Utilities Restoration Corp., established after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help utility companies recoup the costs of rebuilding their system through assessment on monthly utility bills.
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Ed Anderson can be reached at or 225.342.5810.