Will Hick Find Excuse to Veto Red-Light Photo-Radar Bill Again?

Last year, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed bills related to banning traffic cameras and photo-radar enforcement, causing plenty of critics to see red.

In explaining his reasoning, Hickenlooper suggested that he might okay legislation on the topic if it allowed the technology to be used under much more limited circumstances.

Now, a new bill that's progressing through the Colorado General Assembly comes close to duplicating the parameters Hickenlooper cited, raising hopes that improvements in the oft-abused system can be made even if the gadgets aren't totally eliminated.

As we've reported, Westword has been covering this issue since at least 2008, when I shared my own red-light ticket story; I was fined $75 for stopping slightly over the white line at an intersection near Westword's offices. (No red light was run.)

Three years later, we wrote about a study suggesting that the vast majority of such tickets were targeting people turning right on red. The implication: The cameras were set to generate revenue from people engaging in typical, non-problematic traffic behavior as opposed to focusing on safety.

By 2012, some members of Denver City Council were publicly calling for the program to be shut down or modified in a significant way — and Senator Scott Renfro introduced legislation at the general assembly to ban red-light cameras entirely.

Renfro's effort fell short, and a similar bill proposed in 2014 was subsequently transformed into a study, as opposed to flat-out prohibition of the technology.

In 2015, however, two measures passed with bipartisan support: SB 15-276, titled “Concerning the Elimination of the Use of Automated Vehicle Identification Systems for Traffic Law Enforcement," and HB 15-1098, “Concerning the Elimination of the Use of Automated Surveillance Camera Vehicle Identification Systems for Traffic Enforcement.” They called for banning the gear unless a local election was held and voters approved its use.

Nonetheless, Hickenlooper nixed both of the bills within one minute of each other last June 3.

Why? In a statement, he was quoted as saying, "Speeding and disregard for traffic signals are a danger for all drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. These actions have very real, at times fatal, consequences. While not always popular, when used correctly, radar and red light cameras make roads safer. Unfortunately, these bills go too far.

"To that end," the statement continued, "we encourage the General Assembly to enact legislation in 2016 that limits photo radar and red light cameras to only the following locations: (1) school zones; (2) construction and roadway work zones; and (3) areas with disproportionately high traffic and pedestrian accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Secondly, legislation should require that fine revenue be used solely for traffic safety improvements and enforcement, rather than general operating funds or non-transportation purposes.”

Representative Steve Lebsock has taken Hickenlooper up on that challenge with House Bill 16-1231. 

Its summary states that the bill "prohibits the use of automated vehicle identification systems designed to detect disobedience to a traffic signal on collector roads and local streets."

But the bill allows the use of the systems...

• Within a school zone;
• Within a highway or road construction or repair zone; and
• On arterial roads.

Moreover, the legislation "requires that fines assessed through the use of red light cameras be used for traffic safety improvements, traffic enforcement, or related purposes."

The legislation is currently sailing along; CBS4 notes that it passed a House committee yesterday by a 10-3 vote.

Given the success of even tougher bills last year, Lebsock's latest has a good chance of reaching the governor's desk. Then it would be up to Hick to formally accept a measure that seems to have been written just for him.

Continue to see a CBS4 piece about the issue, followed by the bill itself.

House Bill 16-1231