The Texas House voted late Tuesday to ban red light camera systems across the state, while allowing cities to complete their current contracts with camera companies.
House Bill 1631 got an additional push on the way to the Senate from Gov. Greg Abbott, who was on the House floor Tuesday night when the vote was taken. Before the session, he made banning red light cameras in the roughly 35 cities in Texas that employ them one of his four key action items.
The bill’s passage, on a 108-35 vote, came four days after the Texas Supreme Court turned back a challenge to the constitutionality of the camera systems from people who had been ticketed in the East Texas town of Willis.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who had gotten more than 100 of his colleagues to sign onto his bill, melodramatically said passage would help eliminate “a dark mark on this House.”
“Let me just point out that this is about one thing and one thing only. It’s about revenue,” Stickland said. “And it’s about time to stop policing for profit.”
Several House members who spoke against the bill Tuesday night — all Democrats — expressed concern that banning red light cameras would cost cities money. State Rep. Mando Martinez, D-Weslaco, estimated the cost at $70 million.
The camera systems generate an estimated $40 million a year, half of which stays with the cities and half going to the state, ostensibly to aid hospital trauma centers. However, as The Texas Monitor has reported, most of the state’s share of the money has been poured instead into the state’s general fund.
Several House members including state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, defended the camera systems for helping to reduce intersection collisions caused by drivers running red lights.
However, a 2017 study of traffic accidents in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio before and after installation of red light camera system provided strong evidence that that is not the case. The study, considered the most comprehensive to date, found no reduction in accidents or the number of people hurt in those accidents. And it found the seriousness of the injuries in those accidents did not decrease.
“I’m glad to have it in the open. It was never about the safety,” Byron Schirmbeck, a longtime red light camera opponent, told The Texas Monitor Wednesday morning. “It’s all about the money.”
Schirmbeck, the founder and operator of a website, trashyourticket.com, which encourages people not to pay their red light camera tickets, said supporters of Stickland’s bill were disappointed in Martinez’ amendment, allowing cities to play out their contracts rather than requiring an immediate ban. Some of the contracts Schirmbeck studied have several years remaining.
Stickland had been adamant that he did not want a grandfather clause added to his bill.
The Senate has not yet considered its version of the ban, Senate Bill 653, filed by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood.
Hall said he believed a grandfather clause would protect cities from any repercussions from camera companies. But when camera opponents withdrew their support for the bill during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing, as the Texas Monitor reported, Hall removed the grandfathering language.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]