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Red-light cameras could be banned under new bill after years of failed attempts

For years, Senator Scott Renfroe has tried to ban red-light cameras -- devices mounted near traffic signals or in police vans that snap shots of vehicles allegedly breaking traffic laws -- under the theory that they're more about revenue than safety.

The effort failed in 2012, but it's got a lot better chance for success this year -- because a dislike of such cameras has become a bipartisan issue.

Critics have long argued that red-light cameras are set up in such a way as to capture technical violations so minor that an officer at the scene would never issue a ticket for them. Back in November 2011, for instance, we told you about a Complete Colorado report that found of 51 citations issued at 36th and Quebec during a single day, 48 of them -- approximately 94 percent -- involved cars turning right from the right-hand lane.

In most cases, the alleged sin was crossing the white stop line -- which is typically legal to do when turning right from the right-hand lane.

A camera in a photo-radar van, as seen in 9News coverage.
A camera in a photo-radar van, as seen in 9News coverage.

Around that same period of time, 9News and Fox 31 both ran stories about the red-light-camera program, with the Denver Police Department suggesting that the latter was blatantly unfair. Early the next year, however, 9News revealed that the DPD had understated the amount of revenue it derived from the cameras in data provided to the station.

The DPD initially said red-light cameras had generated $279,000 between January and August of 2011. The actual figure was closer to $1.2 million.

Stories like these inspired Renfroe, a Republican, to sponsor a bill banning red-light cameras.

Even though he described himself as "a local control guy," he told us in January 2012 that, in his view, "this is a statewide concern. I think we need to make it uniform across the state. And right now, I think it's pretty clear that what's going on in some cities -- not all of them, but some of them -- is that this is a revenue-generator. And it needs to be about safety."

He added that "there are a lot of ways a city can engineer safety into intersections without red light cameras -- things cities can do to make intersections safer without using Big Brother tactics."

Nonetheless, the bill died in committee, leaving Renfroe frustrated. Afterward, he said, "It's kind of crazy when you look at the system and what we have in place: They send you a ticket in the mail and people pay it without questioning it when you don't really have to pay it. If it doesn't go on your record and doesn't go on your insurance -- if it doesn't do any of these things -- then why are we collecting money on it?

"I was disappointed to see it go down," he admitted. "Other states seem to be moving away from this, and hopefully Colorado will continue to look at it."

Renfroe certainly has: He's the co-sponsor of Senate Bill 14-181, which represents another attempt to ban red-light cameras. We've included the entire measure below, but here's its summary:

The bill repeals the authorization for the state, a county, a city and county, or a municipality to use automated vehicle identification systems to identify violators of traffic regulations and issue citations based on photographic evidence, and creates a prohibition on such activity.

The legislation has already gotten further than the 2012 version, passing in the Senate by a 21-14 margin. And its move to the House is significantly enhanced by the co-sponsorship of Democratic Majority leader Mark Ferrandino.

This is the same recipe for success Renfroe cited back two years ago. "I don't think this should be a partisan issue," he said at the time. "I think this should be a safety issue. And since the bill was announced, I've had an overwhelming number of e-mails coming in, even from Democrats who'll explain, 'I support you on this.' So I definitely think this is an issue where we should be able to come together and put some common sense into what we're doing."

Here's the aforementioned bill.

Senate Bill 14-181

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa February 2012: "Red-light-camera bill dies: Senator still doubts devices make intersections safer."