Minn. lawmakers consider stop light cameras

10:03 PM, Feb 12, 2013   |    comments
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Automated red light enforcement camera

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow cities in Minnesota to use automated stop light enforcement cameras.

"If people know there's no enforcement they evade the law. They run through the red light," Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat, told KARE.

"As budgets are cut police have to ask where do we put our resources in terms of enforcement? And stationing someone at every busy intersection is not possible."

The cameras are authorized in 25 states, including Iowa and South Dakota. They're expressly banned in at least 10 states, including Wisconsin.

The city of Minneapolis used them in 2005 and 2006 to catch red light runners, but the practice was struck down by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2007 and the cameras were deactivated.

The high court ruled that a photo of the license plate by itself does meet the standard probable cause threshold, because it doesn't prove the owner of the car was at the wheel at the time the photo was snapped.

"I'll offer an author's amendment that learns from the Minneapolis experience and will suggest the camera has to capture the face. You can't just capture the license plate," Hausman said, referring to the high court's ruling.

The supreme court also found that Minneapolis lacked authority to patrol an intersection with remote control cameras because Minnesota law requires that city control those junctions with officers or traffic signals.

If Hausman's bill, House File 487, became law it would expand that authority to municipalities to regulate intersections with "traffic control cameras" as well as signals and police officers.

Rich Neumeister, a longtime citizen lobbyist at the State Capitol on the issue of data privacy, said he has concerns about how the information will be used in addition to the stated purpose.

"I think part of the objection is the collection, possible sharing of that kind of information, but also I think it just goes against a grain of how Minnesota believes in privacy for its citizens," Neumeister told KARE.

He's also concerned that privacy concerns will be pushed aside in the name of helping cities reap revenues from the tickets that will be issued as a result of those cameras.

"To me it's a cash cow for municipalities. You can call it taxpayer shakedown, if you prefer, or a back door tax."

Chuck Samuelson, the executive director of ACLU-Minnesota, said he believes such a system will continue to raise due process issues for those ticketed via mail. 

"We believe that the state law requires the operator of the motor vehicle be ticketed, and that you cannot do that by mail," Samuelson remarked.

"You must do it in person and a sworn officer has to see it."

He said even if the cameras simultaneously grab images of a driver's face, it won't always be clear to technicians examining the images just who is behind the wheel.

"They'll send a ticket to the owner of the car and require the owner of the car to rat out the driver. That's problematic and I'm not sure Minnesotans are really ready for that," Samuelson said.

Red-Flex, the Australian company that produces a wide array of automatic enforcement systems, has hired a Minnesota lobbyist and a Minneapolis attorney to work in support of the legislation during the 2013 session.

Red-Flex has earned $100 million in the past decade running Chicago's red light camera system, which also harvested $200 million in revenue for the city during the same period.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week said Red-Flex will not be allowed to bid for that job when the company's current contract expires in July.

According to published reports in the Chicago Tribune, the Australian company hired an outside legal team to examine gifts the U.S. subsidiary of Red-Flex gave to Chicago city officials.

The legislation pending in Minnesota would not name an individual vendor. Those contracts would be worked out by the individual cities that choose to install the cameras.

A group calling itself the Traffic Safety Coalition sent out a press release Tuesday applauding the legislation and noting that 27 of Minnesota's 360 traffic fatalities in 2011 involved a traffic signal.

That coalition includes the Bicycle Alliance, Minnesotans for Safe Driving and some local chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  The news release was sent by a public relations consultant based in Chicago.

The companion bill in the Senate, Senate File 377, is authored by Sen. John Pederson of St. Cloud.   The mayor of St. Cloud, former Sen. Dave Kleis, is supportive of the idea.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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