COLUMBUS -- Smaller Ohio communities would be barred from using traffic enforcement cameras or limited in the fines generated by resulting citations, under separate bills being considered in the Ohio House.
While the provisions would apply to small towns throughout the state, the package of law changes was offered by Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) in response to traffic cameras in use in Linndale in suburban Cleveland.
Fines generated by a traffic camera in the community fewer than 200 people accounted for nearly 80 percent of total revenues collected, amounting to more than $900,000, Patton said.
"This is clearly an unjust use and abuse in municipal local authority," Patton told members of the Ohio House's State and Local Government Committee, where the legislation had a first hearing Tuesday.
The testimony was the latest in an ongoing Statehouse debate concerning the use of red light and speed cameras.
In late 2014, lawmakers OK'd legislation requiring officers to be on hand at all times that traffic enforcement cameras were in use, among other requirements.
Proponents of the law changes say the cameras are little more than a "money grab" for communities, a large portion of citation proceeds go to camera companies, the devices at times incorrectly allege traffic violations and it's difficult for citizens to counter such claims.
Law enforcement and other groups opposed the law changes, saying the cameras have cut down on traffic accidents, and requiring an officer to be on hand would effectively deter many communities from using the devices.
The Ohio Supreme Court earlier upheld cities' ability to levy civil fines for violations caught by cameras. And in January, justices heard oral arguments in a separate case challenging the new state law.
The latter case was brought by Dayton officials, who want to continue to use cameras without having a police officer physically on hand or meeting other requirements enacted by state lawmakers.
Patton opted to introduce additional legislation on the camera issue, after Linndale and other communities continued to use the devices under the new state law.
HB 207 would block communities that do not operate fire departments or emergency medical services organizations from using traffic enforcement cameras.
HB 208 would prohibit communities with fewer than 200 residents from using the devices.
HB 209 would limit the number of traffic tickets that could be issued by communities to twice their population totals.
And HB 210 would limit local authorities from collecting more than 30 percent of their total annual revenues from traffic camera-generated fines.
Patton said he doesn't believe traffic cameras increase public safety; instead, they can serve as a cash cow for communities.
"When a driver sees a police officer on the road, they are reminded that they must maintain a safe speed at all times, and if someone is in fact driving recklessly or over the speed limit, the police officer is there to witness, pull him over, and ticket that individual," Patton said.
He added, "With the over-employment of traffic cameras, these traffic stops simply do not occur. With that said, it is more than reasonably apparent that traffic cameras do not increase public safety, they actually hinder public safety, and the state of Ohio is letting small local authorities, like Linndale, get away with it."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.