A GOP bill that would ban photo radar and red-light cameras from ticketing Arizona drivers passed the House of Representatives and is on its way to the governor’s desk.
House members passed Senate Bill 1234 on May 15 nearly on party lines 32-26, with Rep. Lydia Hernandez, D-Phoenix, voting with Republicans for the bill. Republicans argue the use of photo radar to enforce traffic law is unconstitutional.
“Photo radar exclusively violates our Sixth Amendment right – to not know who is your accuser,” said Rep. Austin Smith, R- Wittmann, “It’s a machine. That’s not a human being that can stand before you in court.”
Police officers from municipalities that use photo radar are supposed to review every infraction caught by camera. This practice was codified into state law in 2018, two years after the Legislature permitted the use of photo radar on state highways.
Republicans say local police departments don’t always review infractions. House lawmakers discussed the measure on April 4, and Smith said he learned, through a public records request, that Scottsdale police officers don’t review every infraction. Rep. Joe Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, referenced this request.
“When a ticket is issued on the street by a police officer, the person ticketed is entitled to due process. When it’s a photo radar ticket for the same exact infraction, due process is thrown out the window,” Chaplik said.
The city of Scottsdale shared the public records request Chaplik and Smith referenced with the Arizona Capitol Times. It was filed by Arizona Campaign for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has been fighting photo radar for years.
A spokesman for Scottsdale said that Campaign for Liberty’s request was never completed and was closed out on March 12. The city received an email from the group asking if a currently sworn police officer reviews every photo ticket and the city responded, “The plainest answer is Scottsdale PD uses both sworn and non-sworn employees to review photo enforcement citations.”
State law requires a “law enforcement agency” to review evidence recorded by photo enforcement before a citation is issued. A municipality’s police chief can assign non-sworn employees to review photo radar.
That’s what the city of Mesa does, too, according to testimony from Police Chief Ken Cost during a House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee hearing in March about the photo radar ban bill.
Cost said that photo radar has reduced speeding in public school intersections, and police investigators do review every infraction. Because of this, only about half of the photo radar infractions are actually sent out as citations. Investigators are not sworn officers, but they are at a higher level than a records clerk and often produce intelligence packets and court evidence, Cost said.
“We’re judicious about this,” he said.
Paradise Valley first implemented photo enforcement in 1987. The city’s Chief of Police Freeman Carney said accidents in the city are down 50% since the year prior to when cameras were installed.
The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police oppose the bill. Chaplik called photo radar a “scheme,” adding more than 75% of ticket fees go to the third-party company that owns the cameras.
Using a link on the Scottsdale’s website to pay a photo radar infraction directs users to a website operated by Verra Mobility, a transportation technology company that builds photo enforcement and other services for municipalities. Verra Mobility opposes the bill.
Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen, said he recognized concerns corporations and cities are generating money from photo radar, but it is important for public safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes motor vehicle crashes as one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., resulting in an average of 36,791 deaths each year, during 2015–2019.
Chaplik also said some lawmakers are opposed to prohibiting photo radar because part of the ticket fees also goes to funding Clean Elections campaigns and candidates who use Clean Elections funds are unwilling to give up a main source of campaign funding.
The Clean Elections Commission said the fund is comprised of a 10% surcharge on all civil penalties and criminal fines.
Senate Bill 1234 is sponsored by Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and she has attempted to run the bill previously.
It’ll be up to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs to decide if photo radar should be banned in Arizona and she is unlikely to sign Rogers’ bill.