JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Any hopes for change impacting St. Joseph’s dormant red-light cameras have been dashed in the Missouri General Assembly’s final days.
Northwest Missouri’s two state senators have successfully used their opposition to silence a measure that would have altered the usage of red-light cameras in cities with the devices. With one day left in the 2014 legislative session, the effect will be a lingering deadlock on the cameras that began operating in St. Joseph in February 2013.
The cameras have been turned off in the city since mid-January, a choice officials made after the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear cases involving five other municipal red-light camera systems. In each situation, a city’s camera system was found to be contrary to state law — since drivers did not receive a moving violation that assesses points against their licenses.
State Sen. Dr. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, have opposed a House traffic regulations bill that included language intended to govern red-light cameras.
“The mood of the Legislature is not to pass that,” Dr. Schaaf told the News-Press on Thursday.
Red-light cameras “are there for safety,” he said. “This bill would totally eliminate the points ... If they’re going to do it, they ought to assess points. Otherwise, it’s purely a revenue generator.”
The ultimate impact of not passing new regulations could mean that red-light cameras might be eliminated over time, Dr. Schaaf said.
Mr. Lager said he has always disagreed with red-light cameras.
“All these cities talk about these under the premise of public safety,” he said. “It’s a cash cow.”
The cameras, he added, are another example of government encroaching on civil liberties.
All three members of St. Joseph’s House delegation also weighed in on the issue.
“I oppose red-light cameras,” said state Rep. Delus Johnson, a Republican who agreed that the cameras are only good for producing revenue. “I’d like to see their use stopped.”
However, Galen Higdon, another House Republican representing the city, said he doesn’t perceive red-light cameras “as a money grab.” He’s also solicited opinions from local Fraternal Order of Police members.
“It’s going to have to be fair and equal,” he said. “I understand the concept.”
St. Joseph Democrat Pat Conway said red-light camera choices are best left up to the city manager and City Council.
City Manager Bruce Woody said officials will continue monitoring legislative and court activity on the cameras prior to making any decisions.
“It’s kind of in a dead-end there,” he added, referring to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Woody said there’s no timetable for bringing up the matter before council members again. He said the city remains uncertain on what position it may take on driver’s license points, whether the cameras should be turned back on, or on making a compromise.
Capt. Jeff Wilson, public information officer for the St. Joseph Police Department, said the city plans to abide by whatever decisions lawmakers or courts happen to make on the cameras.
The House bill would have capped a civil fine for a single red-light camera violation at $135.
American Traffic Solutions, which operates St. Joseph’s cameras and supported the bill, contends that lack of government action means that drivers would be charged license points for the violations rather than the owners.
“Cities will still be able to use the red-light cameras,” said company spokesman Ed Dowd, yet only within the framework set by the courts. Only the Missouri Department of Revenue, not the cities, is responsible for assessing points violations, Mr. Dowd said.
He said American Traffic Solutions will renew its push for new camera regulations in the 2015 legislative session. The cameras succeed in deterring violators, he added.
“The red-light cameras really do change behavior,” Mr. Dowd said.
St. Joseph’s red-light cameras were installed at the intersections of the Belt Highway and Frederick Avenue and at the Belt and Cook Road.