Bill to restrict red light cameras passes House

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — A bill to greatly reduce the number of red light cameras in Illinois rolled through the state House on Wednesday.

After about an hour of debate, Rep. David McSweeney’s measure, House Bill 173, passed by a vote of 79-26.

The bill prohibits red light cameras in non-home rule communities. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it would put the brakes on the cameras in 35 communities in eight counties where the cameras now are allowed: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will.

The legislation would not affect Chicago, which is a home rule community.

McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said the cameras originally were sold to legislators and the public with the idea they would greatly reduce serious-injury accidents, but they have not.

Instead, he said, studies have shown the cameras increase rear-end accidents by as much as 22 percent.

In many communities, the cameras stay up only because they produce revenue from traffic tickets, McSweeney said.

“This is something the people of the state of Illinois are fed up with,” he said. “We need to ban these red light cameras.”

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, concurred, saying he regretted his vote several years ago to allow the cameras.

“I was lied to; I was duped,” he said.

“Folks, understand these arguments are all about money and not about safety,” Franks said.

Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, opposed the bill.

First, he said, the cameras have no impact on people who obey traffic laws.

And, he said, it was bad policy to be talking about any revenue reductions for non-home rule communities, which are very limited in how they can raise money, at a time when Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing reducing state aid to local government.

DeLuca also argued the cameras are non-discriminatory and don’t lead to escalation of conflict between officers and citizens.

“You could even make the argument these people are protecting people in certain situations,” he said.

The cameras also free police officers for crime-fighting tasks, he and other bill opponents argued.

But red light camera critics, former prosecutors among them, said the cameras yield a system short on due process.

Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva, said owners of the cars, not necessarily the drivers, automatically get the tickets from the cameras.

And actually getting the tickets into state court to be fought there is more expensive than just paying the fine in municipal traffic court, he and others said.

“Red light cameras are unsafe, unfair and unnecessary,” said Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard.

Breen said the red light cameras are “ticky tack” law enforcement and ultimately reduce respect for the law.

Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, a former federal prosecutor, said of the prosecution of red light camera tickets, “the way it’s  set up, it’s completely stacked against the citizen.”

Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he used to support the red light camera concept on the belief the cameras would reduce serious-injury accidents.

“That’s the last thing they’ve done,” he said, calling the cameras “a failed experiment in Illinois.”

The 1970 state constitution allows for home rule, which moves more decision-making power from the state government to local governments. Municipalities of more than 25,000 automatically have home-rule status, while smaller communities can put the question to voters to decide.

Home rule units of government have more autonomy in many areas, including finances. Generally, there are two questions to determine whether home rule powers can be applied: Is the matter purely local and has regulation been preempted by the state.

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