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Red-light camera ban fails, transformed into "study"

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Last week, we noted that a bill to ban red-light cameras (after years of failed attempts) had managed to win approval in the state senate. But it was flagged yesterday by a House committee after heavy lobbying from a number of local mayors, including Denver's Michael Hancock, and the Colorado Municipal League, which attacked it on a number of fronts, including a usurpation of local control.

Even after all that, the bill's not dead -- but it's a shadow of its former self.

As we've reported, 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.

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 Senator Scott 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."

Nonetheless, Renfroe's measure failed in 2012 -- and while this year's model got further than its predecessor, 9News notes that the House's Veterans and Military Affairs committee gutted the legislation, much to the delight of the Colorado Municipal League.

The CML's fact sheet about SB 14-181, included below, maintains that officials in individual municipalities are better qualified to determine if red-light cameras are right for their particular locality -- and besides, "motorists observing traffic laws never receive a citation." The organization also argues that the devices enhance safety, offering the following figures to support its view:

• At its only red light camera intersection, Commerce City has recorded at 41 percent decrease in accidents in the last 12 month reporting period.

• Boulder has eight red light camera intersections. During the life of the red light program the number of violations per day has decreased from 174 to 49, a 72 percent decrease. The number of intersection accidents has decreased 68 percent.

• The monthly number of red light violations per day in Littleton is down 75 percent during the life of the program with only five percent of citations issued to repeat offenders.

In addition, the CML sent lawmakers a letter signed by Denver mayor Michael Hancock and eight colleagues against the red-light-camera ban. The letter, also shared here, reads in part, "At a time when we have deepening concerns over hit and run drivers, impaired drivers, and traffic calming in neighborhoods, it makes no sense to eliminate a law enforcement tool that has increased traffic law compliance and reduced accidents. Reducing the ability to enforce red light and speeding laws sends the wrong message to the public."

So what's left of SB 14-181? Not much. Rather than banning the cameras, House reps are asking the Colorado Department of Transportation to study their effectiveness and report back to the general assembly by January 1. But even that outcome isn't guaranteed: The senate, which signed off on the previous version, would have to bless the latest one for it to reach Governor John Hickenlooper's desk.

Here's the aforementioned 9News report, followed by the Colorado Municipal League fact sheet about SB 14-181, the mayors letter and the original bill.

Colorado Municipal League Release on Senate Bill 14-181 by Michael_Lee_Roberts

SB 14-181: Mayors Letter

Senate Bill 14-181

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Politics archive circa April 24: "Red-light cameras could be banned under new bill after years of failed attempts."

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