The Texas Legislature is inching toward undoing what I consider to be one of the more worthwhile decisions it made in recent years.
The House Transportation Committee has cleared House Bill 1631, which would ban cities from deploying electronic devices to catch lawbreakers who ignore traffic signals and run through red lights.
This is a big mistake, man!
I have been a big supporter of these devices since the Legislature empowered cities to use them to assist police officers in enforcing traffic laws. Yes, they have endured some controversy. Some cities – such as Lubbock – took the devices down when their governing councils faced criticism from constituents.
I’ll be candid: I consider such cowering an act of cowardice. Other cities, such as Amarillo, not only have stayed the course, but have increased the number of devices they deploy around their communities.
The Legislature appears headed toward the former course. Legislators are hearing too many gripes about the devices. To which I say . . . fiddlesticks!
Police cannot be everywhere at once. Cities that use these devices seek to curb instances of red-light running, a potentially hazardous act by those who defy a signal’s instruction to stop when the light turns red. Many of these lawbreakers too often just decide to peel out from a dead stop when the light is still red.
I was living in Amarillo when that city deployed the first set of red-light cameras. The traffic department identified about a half-dozen dangerous intersections. The result was that incidents of motorist misbehavior declined at those locations.
An earlier Legislature placed strict rules on how cities could spend the revenue they collect from violators. They had to use the money strictly for traffic improvements. Cities all across Texas have used those funds to upgrade signalization and shoring up lighting along dangerous streets and roads.
The gripes are worn out, tired and hackneyed. Motorists contend that the cameras deny them the right to “face their accuser.” Wrong! Cities allow motorists the opportunity to protest the fines levied when they break the law; if motorists can make the case that they were ticketed in error, the municipal judge can rescind the fine. What’s wrong with that process?
My all-time favorite complaint is that the devices are an “invasion of privacy.” Yes, some folks believe the cameras invade the “privacy” of individuals driving on public streets and putting others in potential danger when they ignore traffic signals’ order to stop – and to stay stopped until the lights turn green!
State Rep. Jonathan Strickland, a Bedford Republican, authored HB 1631, believing I guess that cities don’t deserve the right to take these specific measures designed to protect their residents. Of course, he would deny such a thing. That’s fine. It’s just that the Legislature is controlled by a Republican Party that used to believe in “local control” over issues affecting individual communities. I am left to wonder: What in the world happened to that worthwhile philosophy?
I wish there was a way to stop this effort. It appears lost to those of us who support this technology. Gov. Greg Abbott already is on board with HB 1631.
That is a damn shame . . . if you were to ask me.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont .Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.