By MICHAEL FROST
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 10, 2009)—Legislators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the use of speed cameras in highway construction zones throughout the state.
The bill would also authorize local jurisdictions to use speed monitoring systems in school zones and residential streets with speed limits of 45 miles an hour or less.
Cameras would take a picture of any car traveling at least 12 miles an hour over the designated limit, and then use the picture as evidence in the levying of applicable fines. The bill, requested by Gov. Martin O'Malley, is based on a pilot program already in place in Montgomery County.
In the hearing, proponents addressed concerns that the program was primarily designed to generate revenue.
"From our perspective, this is first and foremost a safety measure. Its intent is to serve as an encouragement to change behavior, not as a revenue tool," said Secretary of Transportation John Porcari.
Revenues from the civil fines collected would be used to cover the costs of implementation and administration, with the excess monies to be used for local safety programs. Any balance left over after two years would go into the state general fund.
House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert, said that's an "inherent conflict."
"It looks like a fundraising mechanism for the state," he said.
Local jurisdictions would first have to authorize the systems, and could only start using them after a public hearing and a 30-day warning period. The bill would also require road signs warning drivers of the cameras.
The maximum fine allowed would be $40.
Lon Anderson, director of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, felt that Chevy Chase had taken advantage of the pilot program by designating Connecticut Avenue, a six-lane boulevard that leads into Washington, as a "neighborhood street." Last year, the city reported $1.2 million dollars in earnings from the cameras, he said.
"That's not what the Montgomery County pilot program was supposed to be," he said.
Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist who was testifying as a private citizen, agreed. He said he observed "speed camera day" in Montgomery County District Court, when ticketed citizens come to protest their tickets, and described it as "a joke and a sham" because of the presumption of guilt and lack of possible defenses.
"No question it's a revenue builder," he said. "This is all about money, it really is," he said.
Rockville Police Chief Terrance Treschuk defended the program by describing how excess revenue in his city gets put right back into pedestrian safety initiatives.
"The violators of the law are paying for safety enhancements on our streets," he said.
To Lt. Leslie Bank, the traffic commander of the Baltimore City Police Department, the program would offer help to departments like hers that are overloaded by other issues. Bank added that Baltimore's "rampant open-air drug market" inevitably takes priority over speed complaints.
"We need some help," she said.
The Baltimore City Administration endorsed a similar bill later in the afternoon that would allow speed cameras on the local level in the event that the statewide bill does not pass.
"It's not about the money for us," Bank said.
For others, though, it did appear to be about just that. When Bank left the room, a potential vendor offered her his card, she said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.