HELENA – The House gave strong support Monday to a ban on cameras used to issue automatic traffic citations, and dealt another blow to law enforcement by backing required videotaping of suspect interviews.
The traffic-camera measure follows the city of Bozeman’s implementation of a red-light system used to catch those who run red lights.
Lawmakers said such cameras are a violation of privacy not warranted in Montana. The ban, House Bill 531, was given an initial endorsement with a 66-34 vote.
“All these cameras are is a source of revenue for local government,” said Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred. “Just because cameras are used in security areas does not mean we need to use them as a source of revenue for local government.”
Opponents of the bill argued the issue should be left to local governments, who make the decision to use the cameras. They also said the cameras are a cost-effective way to catch careless drivers, and noted that many businesses and government buildings are already under surveillance.
“The horse is out of the barn all over the place, and this is not necessarily the place to draw the line,” said House Majority Leader Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar.
Police were also dealt another blow Monday when the chamber enthusiastically backed mandatory videotaping of detained crime suspects.
Campbell sponsored that measure. She argued it would save legal time and costs, help convict the guilty, help exonerate the innocent and shield police from false claims of misconduct.
Rep. David Howard, R-Park City, said law enforcement needs the flexibility to conduct such interviews off camera. He said some criminals would know better than to say anything at all with a camera taping the interview.
“This is a law forcing an officer to do something when there might be a circumstance when it is unwarranted,” Howard said. “Our law enforce officers are already under duress with all of the different things they have to do.”
House Bill 534 was endorsed on its initial vote by a 67-31 margin after supporters assured lawmakers that it allows exceptions for such cases as when a suspect refuses to speak on camera and when a suspect offers an impromptu confession before a camera is turned on.
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