The state House and Senate are moving to impose new standards on cities' use of traffic cameras, but an effort to give voters a veto over cameras has so far been thwarted.
Voter approval for cameras was rejected Tuesday in the House Transportation Committee, just before the committee advanced some statewide standards backed by the Tacoma City Council as an alternative to getting rid of cameras.
The city has cameras at seven intersections and in three school-speed zones, and credits them with making the streets safer. As cameras multiply in cities such as Tacoma, Lacey, Auburn, Lakewood, Puyallup, Federal Way and Fife, some residents complain cities are only out to make money off tickets.
The issue of local votes could come up again on the House floor as an amendment to the Tacoma-backed bill being pushed by Democratic Rep. Connie Ladenburg, House Bill 1279.
“I think we will get the chance to have the vote-of-the-people fight another day,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, an Anacortes Democrat and one of several camera opponents from both parties.
But for now, bills calling for local votes or even an outright ban on cameras, as Morris prefers, are falling by the wayside and appear unlikely to meet a Friday deadline to move forward.
“I don’t think that we need to micromanage the decisions that (cities) make in regards to this,” Ladenburg said, “just like we don’t have a vote every time we want to put up a traffic light at an intersection.”
Mukilteo voters restricted cameras last year, and Tim Eyman is pushing anti-camera initiatives in four more cities, threatening lawmakers that if they don’t act, voters will.
“We’re not going to go away,” vowed Nick Sherwood, a Puyallup contractor who has been asking lawmakers to ban the cameras. “I think the red light camera is a flawed technology. What it does is, it adds an incentive for municipalities to bend the rules, to not give an honest try to engineering solutions.”
Ladenburg’s bill grapples with some of the complaints about cameras, adopting practices used by Tacoma as a model.
Some drivers say cameras are dinging them for something a flesh-and-blood officer would let slide: making a right turn on red without coming to a full stop clear of the intersection.
The bill mandates that police use the same “discretion” in reviewing camera video that they would use when on patrol to decide whether to write a ticket.
In Tacoma, traffic officers review every camera ticket before it goes to drivers and reject most right-on-red tickets, said police Lt. Corey Darlington.
Others may have looser practices, he said. “There are some jurisdictions where they’re probably not reviewing the video and just clicking accept, accept, accept on all the tickets,” Darlington said, repeating complaints he’s heard from drivers.
Ladenburg’s bill also would require yellow-light times to match federal standards, a restriction meant to keep cities from shortening yellow lights to catch more drivers running lights. The same standard is in a bill offered by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, that is heading to the Senate floor.