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Red-light cameras survive legislative challenge

ATLANTA - It looks like red-light cameras in Georgia will be safe for at least another year.

A Senate committee heard testimony Tuesday on a new version of legislation giving the state a role in deciding where local governments could place red-light cameras within their jurisdictions.

But the hearing came to an abrupt halt when a motion to reconsider the bill, which the committee had tabled last year, failed for lack of a second.

Red-light cameras have been cropping up more and more at busy intersections across the state in recent years, giving police agencies a way to crack down on lead-footed drivers without having to stretch their personnel budgets.

However, as the cameras have generated more and more revenue, some lawmakers have begun to question whether local governments have become too reliant on those fines.

"If we are going to use red-light cameras, it should be for safety purposes, not revenue purposes," Rep. Barry Loudermilk told the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday.

Loudermilk, R-Cassville, introduced a bill in the House last year to abolish red-light cameras in Georgia.

But as it made its way through the lower chamber, it was changed substantially to keep the cameras but require local governments to share the revenue from fines with the state.

A new Senate version of the bill presented on Tuesday also would require local governments to obtain a permit from the state Department of Transportation for each red-light camera they plan to install.

Loudermilk told committee members that he liked the changes, but he still was concerned that red-light cameras violate motorists' constitutional rights.

He said owners of cars photographed running red lights receive tickets in the mail charging them with the violation, whether or not they were actually driving the vehicle at the time.

"In a legal sense, that can be interpreted as a presumption of guilt," he said. "It puts the burden of proof on the accused, not the government."

Loudermilk also pointed to cases in which motorists in a funeral procession have been fined based on red-light camera photographs.

"The technology is not infallible," he said.

Loudermilk's testimony brought a sharp response from Sen. John Douglas, R-Covington, a strong supporter of red-light cameras.

"What's your solution to having people running red lights and killing each other in intersections?" he asked Loudermilk. "Do we put a cop on each corner?"

It was Douglas who made the motion last year to table the bill.

Before Loudermilk had completed his testimony on Tuesday, Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, the committee's chairman, was reminded that the bill was still on the table and, thus, couldn't be acted upon.

Hawkins called for a motion to remove the bill from the table and received one. But when no one on the committee seconded the motion, the bill died and the meeting ended.