Move to ban red-light cameras in Texas stalls. The bill may die, but will it be reborn?

A plan to turn red-light cameras off across Texas has stalled.

Supporters are working to rally last-minute support for the legislative proposal even as some political insiders privately say the measure supported by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may well fall short this session.

That’s because House Transportation Committee Chairman Terry Canales, an Edinburg Democrat, told media this week that he’s not moving the bill by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, out of his committee because of concerns that crashes could rise if red light cameras are removed from intersections across the state.

Unless Canales changes his mind, the bill likely is dead this session.

But some aren’t convinced it’s dead.

This news does come in the wake of a constitutional carry controversy that involved gun rights advocates visiting the homes of some lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, to advocate for the gun bill, which prompted several lawmakers to declare that proposal dead.

Neither Stickland nor Canales immediately responded to a Star-Telegram request for comment about the red-light camera bill.

Advocates of the bill say they aren’t giving up.

“We are furious that our state’s lawmakers are playing the exact game they’ve played for the last three sessions,” said Kelly Canon, who led a successful effort to turn off red-light cameras shut in Arlington and has advocated for the removal of them statewide. “Both the Senate and the House bills, identical, are in jeopardy right now. ... It scrambles the mind that this issue — a strong bipartisan issue — is being bantered around like a political football.

“We’ll need a miracle, and we’re not sure yet where to find it,” said Canon, who encouraged supporters of the proposal to contact lawmakers about the measure. “I won’t give up this legislative session, however, until the ‘fat lady sings.’ We’re far from that at the moment and several things can still happen.”

Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass laws.

Red light cameras

Stickland filed House Bill 1631 — and more than 100 House members signed on in support — and state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed Senate Bill 653, both with the same goal: to turn off red-light cameras in Texas.

Red-light cameras have been legal in Texas since 2007. They operate round the clock, taking pictures and video of vehicles running red lights or not stopping long enough before turning right. After an offense, a $75 ticket is mailed to the car’s owner.

In Fort Worth, there are 58 red light cameras at 44 intersections. There are hundreds more across the state.

Supporters say these cameras make streets safer, cutting down on accidents at intersections, and generate needed money for cities. Critics have long said the cameras actually lead to rear-end accidents and violate the U.S. Constitution.

Abbott has become a supporter of this proposal, even tweeting earlier this year that “this is a matter of due process. Police can always enforce traffic laws in person.”

Both bills have been left pending in committee.

“Passing the bill out without further tailoring would be tantamount to me voting something out and later having blood on my own hands,” Canales told The Dallas Morning News this week.

While many say this could be the death knell for this bill, others caution that nothing is truly dead until the session is over.

And even if it is dead this year, that doesn’t mean it will never pass in Texas.

“Things die, but they always get reborn,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant, who noted that the bill could always be proposed again in the 2021 legislative session.

Constitutional carry

Last week, Stickland drew attention when he cast the one “no” vote against the landmark House school finance plan.

He made headlines again when he personally declared his constitutional carry bill dead. That would have let Texans carry handguns without getting a license.

This came after Bonnen criticized Chris McNutt, executive director of Texas Gun Rights, for visiting his home as well as those of other Republican lawmakers. “Threats and intimidation will never advance your issue,” Bonnen said. “Their issue is dead.”

Stickland released a statement about his constitutional carry bill.

“I have worked hard to advance the bill, educate my fellow members, and bring awareness to the issue,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it is clear to me that the bill will not become law this session.”

Canales said this incident didn’t prompt him to push the pause button on the red light camera bill.

But he did tell the Morning News that “if a member is a catalyst of putting another member in danger, that behavior is not going to be rewarded.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.