PHOENIX - Arizona lawmakers are looking at the state's photo speed enforcement program with a critical eye, challenging its purpose, effects on highway driving and feared intrusions on individual liberties.
A House committee on Thursday endorsed a bill (HB2106) to prohibit the use of speed cameras on state highways after supporters said the Department of Public Safety program is fraught with problems.
Among other things, motorists may be jeopardized by traffic responses to camera flashes, potential surveillance capabilities could be misused and there are concerns about whether alleged violators are denied standard legal protections in court, program critics said.
There also are indications that the program's motivation is revenue, not safety, and that there could be legal flaws related to its authorization and possible trampling on separation of powers between the branches of government, critics said.
"This is really a speed tax," said Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican who co-sponsored the bill.
Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, voted for the bill, saying he wasn't willing to sacrifice individual liberties for traffic safety.
The bill's chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Sam Crump of Anthem, cited the program's authorization last June as part of a last-minute budget provision promoted by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"It did not receive the traditional legislative deliberations," Crump said.
The program was launched last September and is well on its way to deploying the planned 100 stationary and mobile cameras. Citing reduced accident rates on a Scottsdale freeway with cameras, Napolitano first directed DPS to proceed with the planning the program in early 2007.
Napolitano resigned Tuesday to take a federal Cabinet post, but defenders of the program said during Thursday's hearing that it improves safety by slowing traffic and reducing both the number and severity of collisions.
Any flaws in the program can apparently be cured by policy changes, said Rep. Eric Meyer, a Phoenix Democrat who voted against the bill. "I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water," he said.
DPS officials said they were neutral on the bill but said cameras slow traffic and save lives while freeing up officers to tackle other problems.
"It is a very, very valuable tool" in traffic enforcement, said Cmdr. Tom Woodward.
The bill drew backing from at least some supporters of a pair of pending initiatives to restrict or prohibit camera use.
"This is obviously a scam. It's come to light, and it's time to end it," said Shawn Dow of Fountain hills, a backer of an initiative to prohibit citations from photo radar.
The committee's 5-2 vote cleared the bill (HB2106) for what is usually a routine legal review before consideration by the full House.
However, it's not clear how soon the full House could act because lawmakers are putting a priority on the state's budget crisis.
And Crump said some legislators could have concerns about the bill if canceling the contract has a price tag — possible reimbursement of the contractor's costs for installing stationary cameras. A DPS official said those cameras average $250,000.