Texas Politicians Pass Bill to Ban Red Light Cameras
The Texas Senate approved House Bill 1631 with a 23-8 on May 17, which moves Texas closer to turning off red light cameras across the state.
The Senate included a provision that allows local governments to continue operating cameras until they finish out any contracts.
"It was a team effort," Texas Senator Bob Hall, a Republican from Edgewood, Texas, said.
"I thank every one of you for doing this," he said to his fellow senators.
"The citizens will thank you."
Even Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who faced recent criticism from fellow conservatives for promising to kill a marijuana decriminalization bill, said it was time to consider a ban on red light cameras.
"Our citizens have been waiting a long time to get rid of red light cameras," Patrick said.
Supporters for the cameras say they make streets safer and generate needed money for the state.
For example, Dallas netted nearly $5.8 million in 2018 from their $75-per-ticket fines, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Critics on the other hand say it's all about money.
That may seem an innocent enough unintended consequence of government on the surface.
But in a story we reported about in 2016, a New York man dubbed the Red Light Robin Hood took matters into his own hands by cutting the wires to red light cameras in Suffolk County, New York.
Stephen Ruth claimed he cut the wires to red light cameras to save lives, and accused Suffolk County officials of shortening the duration of yellow lights in a scheme to make money for the county.
The shortened yellow light durations were causing more injury accidents and deaths, according to statistics where red light cameras were installed.
"I cut the cable wires, making it useless. I’ve made it dysfunctional, just like the whole red-light camera program," said Ruth during a local interview.
"I did it in order to save lives."
Local law enforcement officers supported Ruth, even when they were forced to arrest him, and spoke out about the cameras putting profit over safety — since they were the onces tasked with responding to accidents at locations with cameras.
In Texas, many city officials and local law enforcement officials opposed House Bill 1631, according to the Texas Tribune.
They argued the cameras reduce deadly accidents and bring revenue for trauma care centers and local government.
However, Hall, gesturing towards a binder containing 25 studies suggesting the opposite, fended off questions about potential loss of revenue that goes to trauma centers from red light fines, which included $18.3 million from red-light camera fines for Texas trauma care in 2017.
Bill 1631's fiscal note indicates that banning cameras would cut $28 million from trauma centers over the next two years.
But Hall assured his colleagues that he resolved the trauma care funding issue with the chamber budget writers, who came up with a way to make up the difference through another revenue stream.
The bill now heads to Texas Governor Greg Abbott's desk to be signed into law.
On his website, Abbott says he wants cities and towns to get approval from voters for red light cameras.
Texas Senator Jonathan Strickland tweeted Governor Abbott on Friday, urging him to sign off on the bill.
Jonathan Stickland on Twitter
“The bill to ban red light cameras just passed the Senate and is headed your way @GregAbbott_TX . Would love your quick signature on it so we can restore our Constitutional rights! #HB1631 #txlege #onward”
"I think the red light cameras violate the constitutional rights of Texans," Stickland, who introduced the bill, told the Star-Telegram in February.
"The Legislature is a slow moving giant and we are finally here."
Abbott, who has called for an end to the cameras in the past, is expected to sign the bill.