The state Senate voted 23-8 this afternoon to ban red light traffic cameras in Texas.
The Senate followed the lead of the House, which voted overwhelmingly May 7 to ban the cameras. The Senate version of the bill by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. Abbott made getting rid of the cameras a priority in this session.
The bill directs the roughly three dozen Texas cities with the systems to remove them immediately if their contracts with the camera companies include a clause that nullifies them by legislative directive. Cities that signed contracts without the clause will be allowed to operate the cameras until the end of their contracts.
Hall’s bill also stipulates that as of May 7, cities are prohibited from extending their contracts in advance of the camera system ban.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Sen. John Whitmire, longtime chairman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, said prior to passage. Whitmire, the senior member of the Senate, recalled for the chamber several sessions when camera ban bills were passed by one chamber, only to languish in the other.
For Hall’s counterpart, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, the red light camera measure was his first bill passed in four terms in the House. Both lawmakers hammered on the unpopularity of the cameras with the public and that they were revenue engines for cities rather than promoters of public safety.
Revenue from the tickets issued on the basis of photographs taken by the cameras is estimated at about $40 million a year, split equally by the cities and the state. The current red light camera law stipulates that the state’s $20 million annual share be spent on hospital trauma centers, although as The Texas Monitor has reported, most of that funding has gone into the state’s general fund.
In answer to concerns from senators who voted against the bill, Hall said the lost revenue will be made up in a nearly equal saving from ending the state’s driver responsibility program, a program that issued fines and suspended the licenses of drivers who did not pay their traffic tickets.
An amended bill to kill the program, passed in the Senate earlier this week, was sent back to the House, where it had been originally approved.
Opponents of the bill, Hall said, invariably were city and county officials concerned about what to do about the loss of a steady stream of revenue. “As people came to our office to discuss the bill it was clear that it was all about the revenue,” Hall said. “We are elected by citizens, not by city and county governments.”
State senators Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, offered anecdotal evidence that the camera systems made their cities safer. Rodriguez, who told Hall he intended to vote against the bill, cited studies that the cameras reduced T-bone crashes at intersections.
Hall, however, said he had assembled 25 studies, several of which pointed out that some cities with red light camera systems reduced the length of yellow light times, making them more lucrative but less safe.
Hall cited a 2017 study, previously reported on by The Texas Monitor, that showed no reduction in accidents or the number of people hurt in those accidents in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].