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AZ House panel rejects bill banning photo enforcement

An Arizona House committee on Thursday refused to approve a bill ending the ability of cities and towns to use photo radar and red light cameras, rebuffing opponents who argued electronic enforcement is used to raise money from fines, doesn’t save lives and can actually increase dangers on the roads when drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a ticket.

The bill is the latest failed attempt to stop photo enforcement in the state, which is home to the two largest photo enforcement providers in the nation, American Traffic Solutions and Redflex.

Members of the Transportation Committee rejected the bill on a 4-2 vote, preventing it from moving on to the full House of Representatives. Most said they wanted cities and towns to make their own decisions without the Legislature’s interference.

“I am not in favor of these things, but as a City Council member I will listen to my chief of police,” said Rep. Sonny Borrelli, a Republican from Lake Havasu City and a former City Council member there. “I can’t buy this that nobody knows about them and are being targeted — it’s no surprise.”

A second bill making it harder to serve people with their tickets if they ignore a mailed citation notice was approved. But committee members said the proposed 8 a.m.-5 p.m. limit on service was too restrictive. Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Smith promised to amend the bill on the House floor to make the hours longer.

Smith argued that he’s received complaints from constituents who have been scared by servers pounding on doors late at night.

“We just don’t want predatory servers hanging out,” he told the committee while agreeing to change the time limit from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Although drivers receiving photo enforcement tickets are initially notified by mail, if they ignore the notice they must be personally served if a case is to be pursued. The change Smith sought singles out those tickets and doesn’t change any other rules on process servers, which aren’t limited by law on when they can serve a summons or other court document.

Arizona used speed enforcement cameras on state highways for two years before Gov. Jan Brewer blocked renewal of a two-year contract in 2010. Redflex then took down dozens of fixed-location cameras on Phoenix-area freeways and pulled camera vans from highways across the state.

The state Senate rejected an effort to ban photo enforcement by cities and towns in 2011 and another effort failed to pass last year.

The latest House bill failed Thursday despite testimony from opponents who cited safety issues with the cameras and argued that they are cash cows for the providers and the cities.

“We have these private companies that are in this for profit and they’re going to tell you it’s about safety, but it is not,” said Shawn Dow, Chairman of Arizona’s Citizens Against Photo Radar.

But former Paradise Valley police chief John Wintersteen denies that, citing his city’s experience of both profit and loss with the systems and a sharp decrease in accidents.

American Traffic Solutions lobbyist Stan Barnes said the statewide program politicized the photo enforcement issue that had been non-controversial for years when used by cities and towns. But he cited a failed effort by opponents to get a repeal on the ballot as proof that the public back municipal use of photo enforcement.

“The vast majority of Arizonans support photo enforcement, especially at red lights,” he said. “The facts are that it does work, that it is safety.”

Several committee members admitted they either had gotten tickets or just plain don’t like them. But they voted against the repeal anyway.

“I don’t like it personally, I don’t like photo radar, but I think I should be looking at the benefits to the public,” said Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla, a Democrat from San Luis.

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