HELENA – Lawmakers are refusing to allow the cities of Bozeman and Billings to proceed with plans to install red-light cameras, despite an early push to let existing deals go forward.
House Bill 531 bans statewide the use of cameras or other technology in Montana to enforce traffic violations that are not witnessed by an officer.
“This is private law enforcement, this is entrepreneurial criminal justice,” said Rep. Deborah Kottel, D-Great Falls, in opposition to the cameras during floor debate.
The proposed camera ban, sponsored by Rep. Bill Nooney, R-Missoula, was supported in the House by a 67-33 vote and in the Senate by a 36-14 vote. After one more vote in each, the bill may move to the governor for consideration.
An amendment was attached to the bill in its first passage through the Senate that gave an exception to cities, such as Bozeman and Billings, that already have contracted to use the cameras.
The version of the bill endorsed Monday did not include that exception for existing contracts, which was stripped out during a conference committee with lawmakers from both chambers.
Bozeman signed with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems in 2008 to install red-light cameras at seven of its intersections. In a rush to qualify for the exception, Billings also recently approved a contract with the same company for up to 30 city intersections.
“I have concerns when we’re telling local government what they should and should not be able to do,” said Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings, who spoke against the bill.
Red-light cameras are being used as an enforcement tool in as many as 25 other states, but critics contend they intrude on privacy rights.
“I know what I like and I don’t like and I don’t like people snooping on people,” said Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.
Proponents, though, argue that privacy rights do not extend to breaking traffic laws.
“I don’t think this is snooping. It’s the law you can’t run a red light. I mean what are we afraid of here,” said Sen. Jesse Laslovich, D-Anaconda.
Fans of red-light cameras argue they reduce accidents, but researchers have discovered mixed results. For example, a 2005 study by the Federal Highway Safety Administration found that after installation of red-light cameras, right-angle or T-bone crashes dropped 28 percent, while rear-end crashes climbed 8 percent.
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