Wednesday, December 12, 2012

O'Malley Says Speed Camera Programs Shouldn't Pay Per Ticket

The Baltimore Sun reports that Governor O'Malley has stated that speed camera programs should not pay their contractors on a per ticket basis, a type of contract which is now common throughout the state.
"Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that state law bars speed camera contractors from being paid based on the number of citations issued or paid — a so-called bounty system approach used by Baltimore City, Baltimore County and elsewhere in Maryland.
"The law says you're not supposed to charge by volume. I don't think we should charge by volume," O'Malley said. "If any county is, they need to change their program.""
This would be the first time that Governor O'Malley, who signed statewide speed cameras into law in 2009, has publicly spoken out against a practice by local governments which is now commonplace throughout the state despite a provision of the law which was intended to ban it.

State law contains a provision that "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  Fiscal policy notes from various speed camera bills and comments from some lawmakers in 2008 confirm the intent of this was to prevent contractors from being paid a cut of each ticket.  However NUMEROUS speed camera programs in the state circumvent this rule by claiming that they, not their contractor "operate" the cameras.  This is despite the fact that the contractors have typically substantial control over the machines, and are often responsible for deploying and maintaining cameras, arranging to have cameras calibrated, as well as in some cases defining the nature of the calibration tests, and in some cases also performing processing and mailing of violations and scheduling of court hearings.  (The actual contractor responsibilities vary from one program to another.)

Montgomery County began paying their contractor on a per-ticket basis in 2007, with Rockville, Gaithersburg following suit.  We have followed this issue extensively for over 4 years, in fact it was the very issue that got the website started in the first place.  Since then many other local governments such as Prince George's County, Baltimore City, Forest Heights, College Park, Riverdale Park, (this list could go on and on).  Notable exceptions that pay their contractors flat fees include the SHA's program, Chevy Chase Village (which switched to a flat fee after being sued), and Baltimore County (which is in the process of changing to a contingent fee).

Montgomery County's contract was the topic of a lawsuit, however earlier this year the state high court ruled that ticket recipients could not sue a local government to force the refund of citations because state law did not specifically authorize this, and because paying a citation is considered an "admission of speeding" (by the wording the court decision).  This broad decision would likely apply to lawsuits against speed camera programs on many other grounds unrelated to the contingent fee issue.

It was recently discovered that many citations issued by some cameras in Baltimore City have issued erroneous citations, many to large vehicles such as tractor trailers and delivery vehicles... with some speed readings apparently off by 30mph or more.  In some cases motorists or companies stated they paid some citations because contesting them was too difficult or because they assumed the erroneous citations were accurate.

The Sun reported  that one of the primary authors of the state's speed camera law was unaware local governments were skirting this provision:
"The aim of the legislative provision was to guard against "abuse of the motoring public," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. James N. Robey, a Howard County Democrat, who previously served as county executive and police chief.
"Incentives could lead to some questionable decisions being made on the part of the contractor," he said. "I'm not questioning the integrity of the contractors working out there, but it could lend itself to that kind of misconduct or mischief."
Robey said he had been under the impression that no jurisdictions used that kind of contract. "We're prohibiting it, aren't we?" he asked during an interview. He expressed surprise at hearing that Baltimore City and some counties pay their contractor a percentage of each citation."
The matter of contingent fees being made by some local governments has been public knowledge since 2007, was included in the fiscal policy notes of several bills since 2008, and has been raised in state legislative hearings and legislative testimony several times since then.  The matter came up several times when local governments were debating creation of new speed camera programs.  For example, in Howard County (Sen Robey's home district), county officials made specific public promises that they would not sign a contingent fee contract... but the Sun reported that Howard County now pays contractor Xerox a $9.65 per ticket fee for the first 5,000 citations and a smaller amount per citation for additional increments of 5,000 tickets.