Columbus- Traffic cameras positioned to snare motorists who speed or run red lights can be used only if a police officer is at the intersection to write the ticket, according to a bill passed Wednesday by the Ohio House.
Requiring an officer at the scene jeopardizes Cleveland's plan for installing 30 red-light cameras and a dozen speeding cameras, said Councilman Jay Westbrook. Cleveland City Council approved the idea this month.
"I wouldn't want to make a definitive statement, but I would certainly say this would impair the city's ability to move forward," said Westbrook. "This was a plan to augment our police services. Unless the legislature wants to send state troopers to enforce traffic rules, they ought to let us handle enforcement the way we choose."
House Bill 56 passed by a 72-23 vote. There clearly was not great support in the House for use of the cameras - with or without an officer present. The bill goes to the Senate for consideration.
The cameras are used in several cities around the country and most systems operate the same way. A photograph is reviewed off-site by a designated officer who generates a ticket from the vehicle's license plate. The ticket is mailed to the registered owner of the car.
But the bill's supporters said sometimes the driver is not the car's owner and that studies have shown rear-end crashes increase at intersections where the cameras are located.
Cleveland and Cincinnati are the biggest Ohio cities trying to utilize the cameras. Toledo already uses them, and it was the Toledo Democratic lawmakers who argued hardest Wednesday to remove the provision requiring an officer at the scene.
"It's just not going to happen," Rep. Jeanine Perry, Democrat of Toledo, said before the vote. Police "simply do not have the officers to put at the intersections. It will just eliminate the ability to use" cameras.
That seemed to be a welcome conclusion for many lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House who rejected the notion that the cameras enhance public safety. Instead, supporters of the bill argued that too many municipalities use the cameras only to generate revenue.
"It's clearly a money grab," said Rep. Jim Trakas, Republican of Independence. "I think it has nothing to do with safety."
Some lawmakers suggested the system could be easily manipulated by placing cameras in certain positions at certain intersections, just to entrap motorists.
Cleveland hopes to generate about $2 million in traffic fines this year if the cameras are in place by the August target date. But Westbrook insisted Cleveland's main goal is safety.