Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maryland Police Hold Private Speed Camera Meeting

Montgomery County police officials met in private with law enforcement agencies from around the state Wednesday to offer tips on how to implement speed camera programs. The meeting was held on June 24 at the Universities at Shady Grove, and included about 125 law enforcement officials as well as State Highways Administration representatives. According to the chief of Montgomery County's speed camera program, capt John Damskey, the symposium was closed to the public "to encourage the free flow of ideas from the event’s participants — without fear of self-censorship because those ideas would be made public."
“I don’t want anybody holding back an idea that has a lot of merits that could improve everybody’s program,” Damskey said, after barring a reporter from entering the symposium.
[Read full article in the Examiner]

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This meeting underscores how confident local and state officials are that they will be able to implement these programs immediately with little political opposition. All counties in Maryland will be authorized to implement speed cameras starting October 1, but only after county governments pass local legislation authorizing their use. Cameras will also appear in "highway work zones" on freeways with 55mph speed limits, which are authorized "regardless of whether workers are present". The State Highway Administration has confirmed their intention to use cameras where there are no workers by stating "We need to be having traffic slowed down even when workers are not present"[ref].

Montgomery county continues to pay its contractor a $16.25 cut out of each $40 ticket, an arrangement which many believe violates state law and which is the subject of a pending lawsuit. It is unclear whether the officials at this secret meeting plan to emulate this arrangement, which has the sole purpose of guaranteeing a revenue stream. Montgomery County officials stated their intention several times since May 2008 to renegotiate the contract to a flat fee, and it has has drawn criticism even from supporters of speed cameras. But the appearance now is that with the passage of statewide speed cameras, they no longer need or intend to do so, and will allow an arrangement to continue where the contractor providing evidence to the court only gets paid if the accused driver is found guilty.

It is also unclear whether the "best practices" other local law enforcement agencies will pick up from Montgomery County's program will include placing cameras immediately after a drop in the speed limit in order to ensure a steady revenue stream from out of town visitors.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Free State Ranked "Least Free" in the Nation

A study recently released by a local university ranked Maryland (the "Free State") as the least free in the nation.

“Maryland seems to have a lot of the restrictions that conservative states have, as well as restrictions on personal freedoms that liberal states have,” quotes Jason Sorens, one of the study's authors. The study was released by the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit public policy research center affiliated with George Mason University. The study used a wide swath of comparative data to determine personal freedoms, including alcohol and drug laws, asset forfeiture rules, and education regulations.

Maryland state Senator Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings and said he has seen a steady erosion of personal freedom at the General Assembly. “There’s too many elected officials who believe in big government,” he said. Mooney added that the state’s recent decision to expand the use of speed cameras throughout the state was a “perfect example” of big government triumphing over personal liberties. “Voters need to wake up and realize that their freedoms are being lost slowly and surely in this state and have a revolution at the ballot box,” he said. “We don’t want to head down the road of big government surveying you.”

Sorens said the point of the study was to provide policymakers with data to compare freedom levels among states. He said data show that, all other things being equal, people will choose freer states. The ten states determined to be "most free" were Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Oregon, Idaho, Virginia, and Wyoming. [see full article in the Washington Examiner]

Montgomery County Maryland has been issuing photo citations at a rate of 37,500 per month and is in the process of doubling it's number of fixed location cameras from 30 to 60 to meet a $15.7million quota for next fiscal year. Legislation to allow the use of speed cameras statewide goes into effect October 1 -- legislation which reduces the right of Maryland drivers to face their accuser and to be considered innocent until proven guilty (see how your representatives voted ) . Some locations like Baltimore County rushing to put cameras in place immediately after it goes into effect [ref].

To add insult to injury, in addition to statewide speed cameras, the general assembly also authorized photo enforcement at rail crossings in Montgomery County, with up to $100 fines, in addition to the speed and red light cameras already in use there -- legislation which was never even reported on by Maryland's mainstream press. Montgomery County is currently debating new legislation which would restrict homeowners' right to park on their own property with fines of up to $750, after having tightened parking restrictions on large vehicles the previous year.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Referendum Effort Unsuccessful

Maryland For Responsible Enforcement released the following statement:
==========Begin Statement============
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
10:00PM MAY 31, 2009

MARYLAND FOR RESPONSIBLE ENFORCEMENT

Unfortunately, today was not a bright day for the citizens of Maryland; as they fell just shy of the required 17,883 signatures needed to bring SB-277 to Ballot Referendum with just over 16,000 signatures.

MRE would like to thank all like minded Marylanders who signed the petition and helped collected signatures. We want everyone to know your voices will be heard and we will use our lessons learned to assist citizens challenge speed cameras in their jurisdictions.

Over the past few weeks many Marylanders have expressed their utter disdain ranging from anger over it being another tax to concern over an increased big-brother 1984 police state.

Maryland is one of the hardest if not the hardest states in the union to pass a referendum. Sadly, this results in so many Marylanders being denied a voice in their government by not being able to hold their elected officials responsible for questionable and unpopular policy.

The burdensome state guidelines only guarantee the citizen petitioners a limited few weeks. This allows little time for people to express their concerns over a law. Even if Marylanders had submitted the correct number of signatures, the state would still omit 20-30% of the voter intent. By means of a strict process that if a middle initial was not used, the signature would be void.

During the final days of MRE’s efforts, many Marylanders reached out to us who had just learned about the petition effort and wanted to sign or help collect signatures themselves. Many more Marylanders told us they were in a busy time of the year but would do everything they could to help. With little money spent and a volunteer effort the message was clear Marylanders do not want speed cameras and do not want more taxes and burdens in these troubling financial times.

Between the information the law requires you to collect, specifically the exact way the voter is registered, and the extremely limited time frame it would be a near impossible monumental task for anyone to succeed in.

We would like to again thank all those who signed the petition and helped collect signatures. You were all able to accomplish so much in so little time.

The fight is never over and our continued activism of Speed Cameras will continue

Best Regards,

Justin Shuy and Daniel Zubairi
Co-Chairs
Maryland for Responsible Enforcement
info@mdscamera.com
======= End Statement =========

Unfortunately this means that SB-277 (statewide speed cameras) will go into effect October 1 and cannot be subjected to a referendum in the future. StopBigBrotherMD.org would like to thank Dan Zubairi, Justin Shuy, and the other organizers and supporters of Maryland for Responsible Enforcement for their tremendous efforts to give the voters of Maryland a choice on this issue.