Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Special Thanks

This website would like to offer its thanks to the state lawmakers who had the clarity of foresight to sponsor House Bill 1044 in the last Maryland General Assembly session:   Delegates Susan K. McComas,  Kathy Afzali, Gail H. Bates, John W. E. Cluster, Jr.,  Adelaide C. Eckardt, Donald B. Elliott, William J. Frank, Ron George, Glen Glass, Michael J. Hough, Nicholaus R. Kipke, Michael A. McDermott, Pat McDonough, Warren E. Miller, Joseph J. Minnick, Nancy R. Stocksdale

HB1044 was intended to fix some of the gaping flaws in the state's speed camera law which have degraded the legal rights of honest, safe motorists.  It would have included several provisions which might have addressed problems currently being seen:
  • Stricter standards would have been imposed on the testing and certification of speed camera equipment
  • Courts would have been required to consider citation images as secondary evidence of speed and consider this to be exonerating if the timestamped images did not prove speeding
  • Closed the loophole allowing arrangements such as the per-ticket bounty which Baltimore City paid Xerox Corp
  • Records pertaining to speed cameras would  be required to be kept on file and required to be disclosed in response to a public information act request.
Recent events make clear how badly change of this sort is needed in order to correct the deep flaws in Maryland's system, and some did see this before now.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the House Environmental Matters committee (chaired by Maggie McIntosh, D, Baltimore city) did not see fit to listen to the issues brought to their attention last March, and the bill was killed without so much as a committee vote or any serious attempt to form a compromise bill.  The bill was relegated to an "interim study" over the summer to construct alternative legislation for the next session, but as of this date we have gotten no indication that the committee actually performed any such interim study or solicited any public input.  In our opinion the leadership of our state legislature did not want to discuss speed cameras at all, unless it was to find ways to make more money from cameras.

The result of the general assembly's inaction is now clear.  Local governments feel they can get away with anything... anything at all.... secure in the believe that the state will do nothing to reign it in.  We have seen numerous citations issued to innocent motorists in Baltimore City.  We've seen local governments like Riverdale Park left believing that they can get away with anything, even outright forgery of police officers' signatures, because they believe... no, because they KNOW... that the state will do nothing to reign them in.  Other local governments such as Forest Heights and contractors such as Optotraffic, to this day to this day still refuse to acknowledge errors which have occurred with their cameras.  And to this day some local governments, such as the Town of Brentwood, have still failed to release certain documents requested under the Maryland Public Information Act relevant to speed camera errors and the operation of their equipment.  Even Baltimore City has asserted that it does not need to release certain calibration records in response to a public information act request... and they are by no means the only local government to have taken that position.  We are also seeing local governments like Rockville emboldened by what they have seen other local governments get away with, and so feel free to start ticketing motorists making safe right turns, simply because they and their contractor can make more money by doing so.

Now some lawmakers are looking at legislation to address the problems in Baltimore, and even Governor O'Malley has questioned contingent fee 'bounties' paid to speed camera contractors.  People are starting to see what some of us knew all along: speed cameras can be abused, and Maryland's current law created an environment which encourages such abuse.  Will something actually happen this time?  We don't know.  But if you are concerned about these issues or the lack of independent oversight in photo enforcement programs you can find your lawmakers at and tell them what you think.