Saturday, March 30, 2013

Maryland Legislature Votes To Raise Gas Tax

A transportation bill which increases the gas tax has passed in the Maryland State Senate and will now go to Governor O'Malley for his signature.

The bill will add a 1% sales tax on top of the existing 23.5 cent per gallon gas tax in July.  The bill sets the tax to increase automatically in future years to either 3% in 2016 or to 5% if the federal government does not impose an internet sales tax.  The existing "flat" tax will also now automatically increase with inflation.  The total increase is estimated to reach between 12.1 cents and 20.2 cents per gallon by July 1, 2016.  A family which uses 10 gallons of gas per week will end up paying about an additional $100/year if the full increase goes into effect, representing up to an 86% increase over the current state gas tax.

The bill also includes a $3.50 increase in vehicle registration fees.

Supporters of the bill claim that it is necessary to fund badly needed transportation projects.  The bill was opposed by many lawmakers from rural areas who believed drivers in their areas would be subsidizing transit projects in urban portions of the state which are regularly used by less than 10% of the population.  Some trucking companies complained that the tax would increase the cost of shipping goods. 

Senators Voting FOR the Gas Tax Increase Senators Voting AGAINST the Gas Tax Increase 
Joanne C. Benson (D, Prince George’s County) John C. Astle (D, Anne Arundel County)
Joan Carter Conway (D, Baltimore) David R. Brinkley (R, Frederick County)
Ulysses Currie (D, Prince George’s County) James Brochin (D, Baltimore County County)
Bill Ferguson (D, Baltimore) Richard F. Colburn (R, Dorchester County)
Jennie M. Forehand (D, Montgomery County) James E. DeGrange Sr. (D, Anne Arundel County)
Brian E. Frosh (D, Montgomery County County) Roy P. Dyson (D, St. Mary’s County)
Robert J. Garagiola (D, Montgomery County) George C. Edwards (R, Garrett County)
Lisa A. Gladden (D, Baltimore County) Joseph M. Getty (R, Carroll County)
Verna L. Jones-Rodwell (D, Baltimore County) Barry Glassman (R, Harford County)
Edward J. Kasemeyer (D, Baltimore County) Nancy Jacobs (R, Harford County)
Nancy J. King (D, Montgomery County) J. B. Jennings (R, Baltimore County)
Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D, Montgomery County) Delores G. Kelley (D, Baltimore County)
Roger Manno (D, Montgomery County) Allan H. Kittleman (R, Howard County)
Nathaniel J. McFadden (D, Baltimore County) Katherine A. Klausmeier (D, Baltimore County)
Thomas M. Middleton (D, Charles County) James N. Mathias Jr. (D, Wicomico County)
Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D, Calvert County) E. J. Pipkin (R, Cecil County)
Karen S. Montgomery (D, Montgomery County) Edward R. Reilly (R, Anne Arundel County)
C. Anthony Muse (D, Prince George’s County) Christopher B. Shank (R, Washington County)
Douglas J. J. Peters (D, Prince George’s County) Bryan W. Simonaire (R, Anne Arundel County)
Paul G. Pinsky (D, Prince George’s County) Norman R. Stone Jr. (D, Baltimore County)
Catherine E. Pugh (D, Baltimore County)
Victor R. Ramirez (D, Prince George’s County)
Jamie B. Raskin (D, Montgomery County)
James N. Robey (D, Howard County)
James C. Rosapepe (D, Prindce George’s County)
Ronald N. Young (D, Frederick County)
Robert A. Zirkin (D, Baltimore County County)

Also see how members of the House of Delegates voted.

Additional Coverage:
Baltimore Sun
Washington Post

PA Examines Speed Cameras, Looks to Maryland As Example

Buried deep inside a transportation bill in next door Pennsylvania is a plan to deploy speed cameras in freeway work zones in central PA, according to a report on CBSPhilly.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Senate Neuters Speed Camera Reform Bill Provision

A key provision in a speed camera reform bill was eliminated after State Senator Richard Madaleno (D, Montgomery County) submitted an amendment removing a requirement that citation images show evidence of speed.  Senator Madaleno's amendment denies motorists access to evidence which in most cases is the only thing which can exonerate a falsely accused motorists who receives an erroneous speed camera ticket.

Senate Bill 207, sponsored by Senator James Brochin (D, Montgomery County) originally contained two key provisions: 1) clarifying an existing to provision of the law (which is currently being widely broken) to ban speed camera contractors from being paid based on the number of citations issued, and 2) to require citation images to "ALLOW FOR THE CALCULATION OF THE SPEED OF THE MOTOR VEHICLE " (ie, secondary evidence of speed).

Senator Madelino's amendment changed the language of SB207 from stating that speed camera images must "PROVIDE SUFFICIENT INFORMATION TO ALLOW FOR THE CALCULATION OF THE SPEED OF THE MOTOR VEHICLE " to instead say "PROVIDE SUFFICIENT INFORMATION TO SHOW THE PROGRESSION OF THE MOTOR VEHICLE".  By changing the language of the bill from "speed" to "progression", they have changed the meaning such that the bill would no longer require secondary evidence of speed. As amended, citation images would merely need to show that the vehicle is present and moving, something which is not in and of itself a violation of the law, and which provides absolutely no protection to motorists who are accused based on an incorrect speed reading. 

Brochin's bill was prompted by revelations that speed cameras in Baltimore City had systematically issued erroneous speeding citations, with 1 out of every 20 citations from some cameras proven to be in error.  This included large trucks accused of traveling twice their actual speed  The errors were discovered only due to the fact that Baltimore City's speed cameras had millisecond precision timestamps as well as videos which made the erroneous speed readings provable after the fact.  However many speed cameras in the state do not provide accurate timestamps on images, sometimes rounded down to the second when the time interval between images is actually a fraction of a second which is information that is denied to ticket recipients, so proving speed after the fact would be impossible.

The fact is speed measurement errors can occur with any system.  The Washington Post once reported that a speed camera falsely cited a Silver Spring couple for a 100mph rampage when in fact they had not been speeding.  Such errors are far more common than speed camera supporters will admit, and have happened around the world.  In the UK, a van driver was recently fired over a 103mph speeding ticket which authorities would eventually admit was due to an error.  In Fort Dodge Iowa, speed camera contractor RedSpeed admitted that they were seeing erroneous speed readings for large vehicles in an area the town's police chief described as 'the Bermuda Triangle'.

Xerox corp has admitted that "very flat, metallic, back panel of these types of truck can act as a RF mirror and cause radar signal reflection that can bounce between the receding vehicle(truck) and the approaching vehicle (car in the opposite direction) and results in high doppler changes, hence higher speed readings".  And in a report to Baltimore City conceding the existence of systematic errors, Xerox Corp stated that "Radar effects are caused by reflection, refraction, and absorption" and that "The radar effect is a know property of radar".  As such any radar device has the potential to produce false speed readings, and the speed camera vendors know this.  The same type of speed camera which produced erroneous speed readings in Baltimore City are also used in Baltimore County and the City of Rockville.  Baltimore's then contractor Xerox Corp (who has since been replaced in Baltimore City) is also the contractor in Montgomery County, Frederick, and the State of Maryland's speed camera program.  As such there is no reason to believe equipment used by other speed camera programs in the state is any more foolproof that the equipment used by Baltimore City.

Senator Madaleno: Sponsor of the "Scamera Coverup Amendment"
The TRUE REASON some lawmakers oppose the requirement for secondary evidence of speed is because they FEAR that the Public and the Press will find systematic errors in other speed camera programs, just as has already happened in Baltimore City.

Madeleno's amendment has the effect of denying motorists the right to a fair defense and of ensuring that in many cases they will be presumed guilty.  In most cases, secondary evidence of speed from citation images is the only thing which can give a falsely accused motorist a fair shot in court. And unless it is REQUIRED, such evidence will not be provided and errors will simply be denied by the agencies which profit from cameras.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Maryland House Approves Gas Tax Hike

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 78-56 in favor of a transportation bill proposed by Governor O'Malley which includes a gas tax hike. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Baltmore City Calibration Certificates May be Incomplete

Under Maryland law, "A speed monitoring system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory". The laboratory is required to issue a signed certificate of calibration for the speed monitoring system.

Baltimore City recently signed a contract with "Brekford Corporation" for speed camera services, so the Maryland Drivers' Alliance decided to have a look at a calibration certificate for the new speed monitoring systems.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Baltimore Calls for "Media Restraints"

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Baltimore City released a draft report on the city's speed camera program which included a recommendation to "Restrain media access to future task forces to enable "frank, productive conversations".  The Sun also reported that members of the press were not allowed in as members of Baltimore's speed camera task force visited Brekford's headquarters.

See the full report on the Baltimore Sun website and see the video of the report and of Sun reporters being blocked access to Brekford's facility.

Baltimore City's speed camera program was recently rocked by revelations's that the city's former contractor, Xerox Corp, issued hundreds of speed camera citations due to erroneous speed readings.  Some of these included citations issued to completely motionless cars or large trucks accused of traveling twice their actual speeds.  The Baltimore Sun's detailed coverage of the situation and of city's Speed Camera Task Force meetings was one of the things which forced the city and Xerox corp to make the admissions.  The city replaced Xerox corp with speed camera contractor Brekford Corp at the beginning of this year.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Speed Camera Reform Clears Senate Committee

A speed camera reform bill sponsored by senator James Brochin has been approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee with amendments.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Laurel, Hagerstown Circumvent Calibration Requirement

Documents obtained from the cities of Laurel and Hagerstown reveal that a requirement of state law that speed cameras be certified by an independent calibration lab was circumvented, with the cities and their contractor allowing the manufacturer of the devices to certify their own equipment.  Both Laurel and Hagerstown contract with Brekford Corp for speed camera services and hardware.

A motorist filed a public information act request with the City of Hagerstown seeking evidence for their defense for a March 4 hearing, sending it to the address shown on the citation.  The request was delivered on January 30, however the city did not respond until March 7 (which was not within the 30 day time period required by the MPIA), claiming in their response that the request had been received by the contractor and not delivered to them until Feb 18.

Brekford Corp's Idea of "Transparency"
The request included the technical specifications of the speed camera and the annual calibration certificates. Hagerstown provided a technical specifications document WITH ALL TECHNICAL INFORMATION DELETED.  Even the make and model of the device were removed, along with all citation approval procedure information.  The city asserted that the document contained "materials considered trade secrets or confidential commercial or financial information".

See City's Response
See Technical Doc (all deletions provided by the city and/or Brekford)

In addition, the city did not provide the annual calibration certificates, stating that they were in the custody of Brekford corp and to request the documents in writing from them (this is despite the fact that the city's reply stated that the motorist's MPIA request was originally received by the city's contractor ).

As a result, the motorist did not receive any of the documents she was seeking prior to her court hearing and was denied the opportunity to use them to prepare a defense.

The motorist provided the city's response to the Maryland Driver's Alliance, and we wrote to the city police and Mayor on her behalf, pointing out the following portion of state law pertaining to speed cameras:
(4) (i) A speed monitoring system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed BY AN INDEPENDENT CALIBRATION LABORATORY.(emphasis added)
(ii) The independent calibration laboratory shall issue a signed certificate of calibration after the annual calibration check that:
1. SHALL BE KEPT ON FILE; and  (emphasis added)
2. Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section.
We argued that it would be illegal to run a speed camera program without the annual calibration document "on file".

On March 15 the city "found" the missing certificate and sent a new response to the requester: "it was determined the calibration certificate records are on file, and we are producing them along with this correspondence."

The documents reveal the "certificate of verification" was issued by "Sensys Traffic AB" : the Swedish manufacture of speed camera equipment used by Brekford Corp.  The document did not show the actual standard being tested against, only that it "is verified according to Sensys In-house Verification method" and that "The device under test was in compliance with specification at all tested points".  The "customer" was listed as "Sensys America", the US distributor for Sensys whom Brekford contracts for speed camera hardware.

The city still did not provide a non-redacted technical specification.

Had the documents been made available to the motorist prior to her court hearing, she might have asserted that the manufacture of a device does not meet the definition of an "independent calibration laboratory", since they have a vested interest in declaring their own hardware valid, and that the city did not meet the burden of proof because the specified document was not "admitted as evidence in any court hearing" as state law requires.

At nearly the same time this was taking place, the Maryland Drivers Alliance placed a public information act request with the city of Laurel for copies of all of their annual calibration certificates used during any portion  of 2012 or 2013, and a technical specification for the devices.  Laurel refused to provide technical documents, claiming that it was proprietary information belonging to Brekford Corp.  However on March 13, 2012 Laurel did provide calibration documents for 6 speed camera locations.

All calibration certificates issued prior to November 2012 were issued by the manufacturer, Sensys.

See documents for:
7th St SB
Oxford DR NB
Cherry Lane WB
Cherry Lane EB(Apr 2012)
Cherry Lane EB(Nov 2011)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gas Tax Hike Included In Govenor's Transportation Plan

The Legislature is considering Governor O'Malley's proposed transportation plan, which includes a new sales tax on gasoline and is designed to collect $3.4billion in new revenue over the next five years.

The bill is designated HB1515 in the House of Delegates and SB 1054 in the Senate.  The bills are set to be considered by the Senate Rules Committee and the House Ways And Means committee.

The bill would lower the fixed gas tax from 23.5 cents per gallon to 18.5 cents in July 2013, but would add a 2% sales tax which would effectively raise the tax at current prices.  An additional 2% sales tax would be added next year.  The bill also would peg the 'flat' tax rate to inflation, allowing it to automatically increase in future years.  Additionally, if the federal government fails to pass an "internet sales tax", the bill contains a provision to automatically increase the tax by another 2%.  The total tax increase could be up to an additional 22 cents per gallon in 2015.

House, Senate Committees Prepare to Rule on Speed Camera Legislation

The Maryland House Environmental Matters and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees are still pondering legislation to reform or repeal the state's speed camera law.  However as time passes, prospects are dimming that meaningful reform will be passed this session.

These bills were largely prompted by revelations that Baltimore City and speed camera contractor Xerox Corp had systematically issued erroneous speed camera tickets to hundreds of innocent motorists, and that the error producing camera was left in operation for many months after the city and Xerox were aware of the problems, as proven by emails from March 2012 and July 2012.  The same types of cameras which issued these erroneous citations are also used in Baltimore County and Rockville, and the same contractor runs speed camera programs under Montgomery County, Bowie, Frederick, and the SHA.  The legislation was also prompted by an audit of the SHA's speed camera program which documented improprieties in the procurement of their speed camera contract and the testing and certification of equipment.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lawmaker Proposes SHA Ticket Refunds

State Senator E.J.Pipkin (R, District 36) has proposed legislation to refund speed camera citations collected under the Maryland SafeZones program between June 22, 2010 and March 31, 2012.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ohio Court Rebukes Optotraffic

An Ohio judge has issued a scathing ruling shutting down a speed camera program run by Maryland based speed camera contractor Optotraffic and the town of Elmwood Place Ohio.  Elmwood made news after introducing the cameras to issue $105 tickets to vehicles accused of traveling only a few miles per hour over the speed limit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Court Rules Baltimore County Contract Illegal

A circuit court judge has declared Baltimore County's speed camera contract with ACS (now a part of Xerox Corp) to be illegal.  The court issued a ruling that ACS is an "operator" of the system and that because of this it violates a provision of state law which bans contracts from being based on the number of tickets issued.

Circuit Court Ruling
Attorney Stanley Katz from the law firm Saiontz and Kirk appeared at a March 5th legislative hearing in Annapolis with a copy of the ruling.  This is the first time a Maryland court has issued a ruling that a jurisdiction has violated this provision.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

House Committee to Examine Six Speed Camera Bills

A hearing is set  for six speed camera related bills in the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee in Annapolis on March 5th starting at 1pm.

These bills were largely prompted by revelations that Baltimore City and speed camera contractor Xerox Corp had systematically issued erroneous speed camera tickets to hundreds innocent motorists, and that the error producing camera was left in operation for many months after the city and Xerox were aware of the problems, as proven by emails from March 2012 and July 2012.  The legislation was also prompted by an audit of the SHA's speed camera program which documented improprieties in the procurement of their speed camera contract and the testing and certification of equipment.