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Senate panel backs changes to photo enforcement

Arizona legislators say they want to make the state’s groundbreaking and controversial highway speed-camera program fairer even while waiting for voters to decide whether to repeal it outright.

A Senate committee on Feb. 10 voted 6-1 for a bill that includes new requirements on camera locations, warning signs and other procedural steps. The bill also would direct some of the fine money to a fund for purchasing law enforcement equipment

The Public Safety and Human Services Committee also endorsed a proposed ballot measure with the same provisions, but the panel did not hear a separate proposed ballot measure that would prohibit speed cameras on highways.

However, a leader of an initiative campaign said it is sure thing to put a repeal on the November ballot.

“The citizens will take care of it,” Shawn Dow assured the senators. “We need cops to do patrol and law enforcement, not cameras.”

Arizona launched the first statewide speed-camera program in 2008, with then-Gov. Jan Napolitano saying it would help make highways safer. In 2009, her budget proposal anticipated $90 million of additional revenue, an expectation that has fallen far short since deployment fixed and mobile cameras started that fall.

There are now 76 mobile and fixed cameras deployed on highways across the state.

Supporters, including key legislators, contend the cameras help make highways safer by slowing traffic and freeing up Highway Patrol officers for other priorities.

However, the program has drawn criticism that it’s unfair to motorists and opens the door for wider “Big Brother” surveillance.

“This thing is going to continue snowballing down the road,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Snowflake Republican. “We could just be watching our citizens all day long watching for things that they’re doing wrong.”

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