Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Howard County Council Mulling Speed Camera Authorization

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman submitted his proposed legislation to authorize the use of speed cameras in Howard County at the April 4rth legislative session.  The measure is scheduled for a public hearing on April 20th at 7:30pm and the council is expected to vote on the measure in May.  This legislation has been anticipated since Ulman announced his intention to introduce speed cameras in March.

State Senator James Robey (D) from Howard County was one of the instrumental players in getting statewide speed cameras authorized in 2009 and has been supporting the Howard County proposal.  ACS State and Local Solutions, the contractor for the largest speed camera contracts in the state (including Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and the State of Maryland run programs), has also been supporting the addition of speed cameras to Howard County, creating an "Astroturf" web site which they revealed their affiliation with the site only after it was exposed by local media.

The proposed legislation contains several restrictions consistent with state law, including restrictions on how revenue is to be spent and how the cameras are to be operated or used, which are ostensibly intended to prevent the devices from being used as cash cows and to protect your rights.  However every speed camera program in the state has violated some provision of the law, and nearly every promised restriction on the use of speed cameras has been broken or circumvented by some speed camera program in the state.  Examples include ignoring and circumventing restrictions on how revenue is to be spent, creation of vast new school zones solely for speed camera deployments, the use of contingent fee contracts, refusals to present camera operators at court hearings, using cameras which are not independently certified in Baltimore County, drivers threatened for requesting court hearings instead of being provided court dates, and the failure to regularly test machines for accuracy.  In addition, there have been examples of lowering of speed limits at some camera sites, and there have been numerous documented cases of errors.  The reality is that there is no "enforcement clause" in state law for any of the supposed restrictions, even if flouting those restrictions mean innocent people may be getting tickets.  Thus the various local speed camera programs in the state face no penalty for violating the law, very rarely even having citations thrown out in court.  The state has so far refused to intervene in reported cases of abuse, possibly because the state's own program has also run afoul of some provisions of the law.  But don't worry, in Howard County things will be different. Sure why not, there's a first time for everything.

County residents can appear at the April 20th hearing, or they can contact the council.  Click THIS LINK to open an email window, or go to the county website for contact information.