Louisiana House Considers Traffic Camera Restrictions

By MELINDA DESLATTE | April 2, 2014

The Louisiana House will debate two measures that seek to place new limits on the red light cameras and automated speed enforcement systems that towns and cities use to issue traffic tickets.

The bills are part of an annual effort by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, to chip away at the cameras that Arnold says are unfair to citizens and have little to do with public safety.

“Traffic cameras are not about policing. They’re about fleecing. They’re about fleecing citizens’ wallets,” Arnold told the House Transportation Committee.

Mayors and police chiefs in municipalities that use the cameras defended them, saying they help change irresponsible driving behavior and reduce car accidents while allowing police officers to focus on crime rather than traffic tickets.

“I’ve been blessed with one of those tickets. But let me tell you what the result was: It changed my driving behavior,” said Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, a former state police superintendent and an opponent of Arnold’s bills.

One Arnold proposal would restrict the traffic citations that can be issued by speeding cameras on state highways. Tickets could only be sent out if a driver was going more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit on those roads, except in a school speed zone.

Backers of the traffic cameras said that would lessen the effectiveness of the enforcement systems, because state highways are often the major thoroughfares through towns and cities.

Dee Stanley, Lafayette’s chief administrative officer, said the bill would “gut the program” that Lafayette has had in place for seven years.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knapps said five of the six major intersections in his town involve state highways.

“All you have to do is go the speed limit and stop at the red lights. And if you do that, you’re good,” he said.

Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, said he believes people should enforce the laws, not cameras.

“I just think boots on the ground are better for public safety than cameras,” Pylant said.

“Boots on the ground are better for dealing with criminal activity, rather than traffic citations,” countered Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who opposed Arnold’s bills.

The other Arnold bill would lengthen the caution light used at intersections that have red light cameras, as a means to reduce the number of people who get tickets by giving them more time to move through yellow light before it turns red.

Stanley said the addition of an extra second for the caution light, as required under Arnold’s proposal, could disrupt traffic flow.

The transportation committee narrowly agreed to advance the proposals with an 8-7 vote, only after the committee chairwoman, Rep. Karen St. Germain, cast the tie-breaking vote to let the full House debate the bills.

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