State senators throw up caution flag on Red Light bill

Senate Democratic leaders got stuck at a flashing red light and will now need to proceed with caution when they return to a bill authorizing traffic enforcement cameras that was tabled mid-session Thursday.

The controversial legislation will not resurface for at least another week. In the interim, it is unclear if Senate President Karen Spilka can get the members of her party who were tepid about the bill to come around before advancing.

The legislation (S 2553) would create a local option for municipalities to install automated red light or school bus cameras that would photograph traffic violations. All fines would be directed to the car’s owner, regardless of who was driving, and would top out at $25, though municipalities could only use the revenue to pay the costs of installing and operating the systems.

At one point during Thursday’s debate, 14 Democrats defected from leadership to join with Republicans in support of an amendment that would have scaled back permanent approval for some communities to install cameras with a three-year pilot program.

“It’s an ongoing discussion on a complex issue and the Senate welcomes debate,” Spilka said.

Before a parliamentary motion halted consideration of the bill Thursday evening, the bill had already drawn significant dissent from both Republicans and Democrats in a chamber where legislation often sails through unanimously or along party lines. Senators raised concerns about privacy violations and the efficacy of camera enforcement during two hours of stop-start debate and private negotiations.

All four Republicans voted in favor of changing the authorization to a pilot program. So did 14 Democrats: Sens. Harriette Chandler, Sonia Chang-Diaz, Nick Collins, Jo Comerford, Diana DiZoglio, Jamie Eldridge, Paul Feeney, Anne Gobi, Eric Lesser, Mark Montigny, Marc Pacheco, Becca Rausch, Walt Timilty and James Welch.

“For a lot of senators, there really wasn’t a lot of focus on this bill until today, and obviously we all need to be better about that,” Eldridge told the News Service after the session. “The concern a lot of us have is that to increase government surveillance at a time when the public is deeply offended by increased surveillance by Google, Facebook, other governments in other countries — this bill seemed like a lot of government surveillance with not a lot of privacy protections.”

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