Texas

Want to see red-light cameras banned in Texas? That effort just got a big boost.

A plan to turn off red-light cameras across the state moved one step closer to reality on Wednesday.

The Texas House, on a 109-34 vote, approved a plan by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, to prevent cities from continuing to run the cameras.

However, an amendment added to the bill — if not stripped later in the legislative process — will let cites keep operating the cameras until their contracts with vendors expire. Fort Worth’s red-light camera contract expires in 2026.

“This is our bill to ban red-light cameras in the state of Texas,” Stickland said Wednesday, when he asked colleagues to pass the bill.

This is the first bill on which Stickland is listed as the primary author or sponsor that has passed the Texas House since he first took office in 2013.

House Bill 1631 heads to the Senate, where a companion bill has been approved by a committee and awaits a hearing on the Senate floor. Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass laws.

Supporters say these cameras — which have been in Texas since 2007 — make streets safer and generate needed money for communities and the state. Critics, including Stickland, argue that the cameras violate the U.S. Constitution and lead to rear-end accidents.

State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, called on the House to vote against the bill.

“Anyone who says this hasn’t had a positive effect, and it hasn’t (made) a change in driving patterns, has their head in the sand,” he said.

Anyone who supports the bill, Romero said, is “telling folks, when you see the yellow light, push the gas.”

Romero and Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, were the only Tarrant County members to vote against the bill.

“Members, please stay with me on this bill to ban red-light cameras,” Stickland said before the vote. He noted that the next step for the Legislature will be to increase yellow light timers and look at other technologies “that do not infringe on our constitutional rights.”

Vehicles entering intersections monitored by the cameras are photographed if they enter after the light has turned red. 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 that operate 24 hours a day.

The city contracts with Verra Mobility, formerly known as American Traffic Solutions, to run the red light cameras.

Traffic laws

Similar efforts to turn off these cameras across the state have died in recent legislative sessions.

But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on the issue, supporting efforts to eliminate the cameras. He tweeted earlier this year that “this is a matter of due process. Police can always enforce traffic laws in person.”

This bill appeared to stall in committee earlier this session and Committee Chairman Terry Canales initially said he wouldn’t move the bill forward because of concerns that accidents could increase if red-light cameras were turned off. Canales, D-Edinburg, eventually did call for a vote and the committee approved the measure.

The measure received tentative approval from the House late Tuesday night, before claiming final approval Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled that the bill has finally passed the House,” said Kelly Canon, an Arlington woman who led the effort to remove red-light cameras from her city years ago.

Canon has testified in support of the bill this year and in the past.

Unpaid tickets

In Fort Worth last year, 224,307 tickets were mailed to motorists who run ran red lights or didn’t stop long enough before turning right. Of those, 106,580 were paid and 116,074 were sent to collections agencies, city records for the 2018 fiscal year showed.

The city collected $8.3 million from the tickets last year. Once expenses and contractor fees were taken care of, and half the remaining amount was sent to the state, Fort Worth kept $3.4 million.

Fort Worth used the money for traffic safety improvements such as traffic signals, stop signs, cross walks and intersection improvements

The Texas Comptroller’s office collected $19.7 million from red-light camera ticket payments across the state last year.

Those state dollars are earmarked for designated trauma facilities and county and regional emergency medical services and trauma care systems. Some money may also be used by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for graduate-level medical education or nursing programs.

Flagging accounts

Another amendment was added to Stickland’s bill Wednesday.

He accepted this one, which would prevent county and state officials from refusing to register a vehicle because the owner has unpaid red-light camera tickets.

Some Texas counties, such as Dallas, will flag accounts with unpaid red-light tickets and prevent those vehicle registrations from being renewed until the tickets are paid.

In Tarrant County, online registration likely will be blocked if red-light tickets are left unpaid.

But Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess has said anyone who has a flagged account may go to any of the eight Tarrant tax assessor collector offices and renew their registration in person, no matter how many unpaid red light tickets they have.

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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.
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