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Red light cameras get legislative green light

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 31, 2019

MADISON — A legislative committee this week gave the green light to a bill that would bring red-light cameras to Milwaukee. 

The bi-partisan measure appears to have plenty of support, even as cities nationwide move to ban the automated traffic cops. 

Eight of nine members of the Committee on Local Government voted for a five-year pilot program that would place red-light and automated speed enforcement cameras at Milwaukee’s most dangerous intersections. 

The bill has support from Milwaukee Democrats, of course, and plenty of Republicans. 

Voting for the measure: Reps. Novak; Gundrum: Duchow; Steffen; Skowronski, Brooks; Spreitzer; and Gruszynski. Madison liberal Rep. Lisa Subeck cast the only no vote. 

State Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) spoke against the bill at Tuesday’s hearing. He cautioned his Republican colleagues in support of red-light cameras to freshen up on the history of case law involving the Fourth and Sixth amendments “and take deep and considerate thought before casting a vote on an idea that is so antithetical to a free country.” 

“That policy should come nowhere near the borders of the state of Wisconsin. As demonstrated in other places it causes nothing but logistical problems and, most importantly, civil rights problems,” Craig said. 

Proponents assert the devices will save lives. Opponents say the real danger is in the constitutional overreach of automated traffic enforcement and the cash cows the cameras have become for municipalities. 

At least eight states prohibit the use of “photocops,” according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Texas recently joined the ranks. 

Texas state Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican and sponsor of the bill nixing the devices, pointed to studies that show the cameras don’t improve public safety, that in some cases they cause accidents. Beyond that, he said, they’re unconstitutional. 

“Red light cameras violate the right to due process by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation,” Hall said on the Senate floor. 

A report by the Illinois Policy Institute found local governments in the Land of Lincoln generated more than $1 billion combined in red-light camera revenue from 2008 to 2018. 

Chicago, the report notes, has long been a poster child for red-light camera abuse and corruption. 

“The city is home to the nation’s highest count of red-light cameras, a former high-ranking transportation official serving jail time for taking bribes from a red-light camera company, and a pricey settlement for drivers who a judge ruled did not receive proper notifications in the ticketing process.”

Now, bipartisan support is growing for a statewide ban on red-light cameras in Illinois. A bill to do just that has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. 

As cities put the brakes on automated traffic enforcement, the Wisconsin Legislature is looking to move on the Milwaukee pilot program by the end of the session. 

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