Efforts to get rid of red light cameras in Florida got another boost Wednesday when a bill introduced by Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini sailed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.
Sabatini’s House Bill 6003 is similar to measures introduced in the past several Florida Legislative Sessions, bills that usually won approval in the House but died in the Senate. A similar proposal was approved 83-10 by the House during the 2018 legislative session but failed to move forward in the Senate.
With opposition stated from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Police Chiefs Association the bill was approved 12-1 by the subcommittee of the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday. Democratic U.S. Rep. Fentrice Driskell of Tampa voted no.
The House bill must still pass two committees, the Appropriations and State Affairs committees, before it could go to the full House during the upcoming session.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a Senate version (SB 306), which has not gone before any committees.
Sabatini, a freshman from Howie-in-the-Hills, argued that since they were introduced in Florida in 2010, red light cameras have not brought about a decrease in traffic crashes in Florida, have not provided any deterrence, and have turned into cash cows for municipalities and the private companies that operate them on cities’ and counties’ behalf.
He cited Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles data to show that there has been, in his words, a “massive uptick” in the amount of all types of traffic crashes in Florida since 2010. And he cited data that showed an increase in tickets going to drivers for second offenses, which he said means the first tickets did not change behaviors, so are not a deterrence.
“The red light program has failed to create public safety in our state,” Sabatini said.
There are 49 cities, towns, and counties using red light cameras, Sabatini said. Drivers hit with tickets from them are fined $158, with $75 going to the cities, and the rest to the state.
“It’s very regressive toward working-class people, a $158 ticket is something that really does hurt the average person who receives one. And I think one thing that must be said of this bill, these tickets, half the ticket automatically goes to the operator of the cameras. So we know this is really profiting the camera companies more than any other single thing involved with the bill,” Sabatini said. “But 75 percent of the remaining funds go into the general funds of the local government, municipalities and local governments. It means they’re using this money for other things they want to do. But it’s incentivizing them to keep the program, based on preying on working people who have a traffic infraction.”
Florida League of Cities lobbyist Jeff Branch challenged his crash numbers, contending that there have been reductions in crashes in many intersections where red light cameras are in use. Branch suggested the increase in crashes statewide is due more to the increase in distracted drivers, due to cell phones and other devices.
However, he said the league’s opposition to the bill was not an endorsement of red light cameras but of local jurisdictions’ rights to be able to decide on their own whether they want to use the cameras.
Sabatini said he’d be willing to amend the proposal so it wouldn’t conflict with existing contracts that local governments may have with red-light camera companies.
If the red light camera program is repealed, Florida would see a hit of about $65 million a year in general fund revenue and about $14 million a year in revenue earmarked for trust funds, such as the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, according to the legislative staff analysis of the bill.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.