Ban on red light cameras passes through Texas House

Legislation that would ban red light cameras throughout the state is inching closer to becoming law after an amended version passed through the Texas House.

House Bill 1631, proposed by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), would prohibit the use of "photographic traffic signal enforcement systems."

The bill passed by a 109-34 vote. It was amended to allow cities that could be penalized by suddenly breaking a vendor's contract honor the contract until it expires.

Another ammendment to the bill would make sure the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the county assessor-collector cannot refuse to register a vehicle if the owner has not paid the fine for the former red light camera law.

The next step would be for the bill to go through the Senate.

The Senate has twice voted in recent years to ban red light cameras, but the measures have failed to pass the Texas House.

Cities that have red light cameras are not thrilled about the possibility, saying they make intersections safer and they generate a lot of revenue.

There are 44 intersections in Fort Worth patrolled by red light cameras.

Some state legislators are eager to do away with them.

“I'd like to get rid of them, I’ve had a couple of tickets. It seems like they’re unfair. I don’t even remember disobeying the law,” Burleson resident Gary Johnston said.

“You know, I think there’s good and bad to it,” said Melodee Lenz, who works in Fort Worth.

With a bird’s eye perspective, red light cameras can capture your every move just as the light changes.

“In some ways it can prevent a hit-and-run,” Lenz said. “But I do think that they have been faulty at times.”

The fight to ban the cameras in Texas is nothing new.

But Bedford State Representative Jonathan Stickland, who wrote the bill, says he’s closer than ever to getting it done.

“Some of you know, I have been waiting a long time for this moment. Seven years,” Stickland said,

Tuesday night, the House voted to remove the cameras statewide.

“It feels really good,” Stickland said. “Trying to restore the constitutional rights of each and every Texan.”

Stickland, who spoke with FOX 4 on the phone from the Capitol, says they're unconstitutional.

“Red light cameras as they currently exist literally flip our legal system upside down,” he said.

But Tanya Brooks, with the Fort Worth Transportation Department, says a city without cameras is a little less safe.

“I’m not happy about it,” Brooks said.

She says since the cameras went in 12 years ago, the city’s crash rate has gone down by 59 percent, and they rarely see repeat offenders.

“They’ve learned from the program and they do not repeat the behavior,” Brooks added.

Stickland points to various third party studies that say red light cameras cause more accidents.

“In fact, most of the studies that I have seen show a huge increase in the number of rear-end collisions that happen because folks get scared of the red light cameras and end up hitting their break as soon as they see yellow,” Stickland said.

And then there’s the money from all of those tickets mailed out.

The city of Fort Worth has netted an average of just under $1 million in revenue each year.

Stickland would like the ban to take effect in September, along with any new law.

Fort Worth’s contract has a “just-in-case” clause.

“If the program ends because of some type of legislation, it ends immediately,” Brooks said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Stickland says he’s hopeful they’ll discuss the bill and come to a decision within the next few days.