Montgomery to get speed cameras

Senate joins House of Delegates in overriding governor’s veto; bill will become law in 30 days

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate on Wednesday gave Montgomery County the green light to become the first Maryland jurisdiction to use radar-activated cameras that can detect, photograph and ticket speeders.

On a 31-16 vote, the Senate overturned Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of legislation that would let the county and its municipalities install speed-monitoring cameras. The House of Delegates overrode the veto Tuesday in an 89-45 vote. The bill will become law in 30 days.

Votes in both chambers generally followed party lines.

Supporters say the cameras will bring safety to school zones and quiet suburban streets. Opponents see the cameras as an intrusion in rights.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Stevensville said the bill was a further erosion of Marylanders’ privacy.

‘‘It’s another disturbing step toward Big Brother,” said Pipkin, who voted to uphold the veto.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda countered that the cameras are not ‘‘George Bush listening to your cell phone conversations” because the cameras record what is taking place in the open.

Pipkin also questioned the effectiveness of the cameras, saying that drivers will slam on the brakes, causing rear-end collisions, when they see signs they are entering an area enforced by speed cameras.

Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda sponsored the bill at the behest of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) after a committee studying pedestrian fatalities suggested speed cameras could reduce deaths and injuries.

Bronrott said the bill is ‘‘narrowly cast” and focuses on roads posted at 35 mph or less and only in residential areas or school zones. The tickets, issued only when drivers are going more than 10 mph over the speed limit, are simple $40 fines and do not include any points on a driver’s license. County police would determine where to put the cameras.

County officials welcomed the override vote.

‘‘It’s a simple concept: If you obey the law, you have nothing to worry about. If you violate the law, you have reason to be concerned,” said Duncan spokesman David S. Weaver.

Reducing speeding and red-light running will prevent pedestrian fatalities, he said.

‘‘This is a pilot program, limited in scope. We’ll see how it works,” Weaver said. ‘‘We already have precedent with the red-light cameras.”

Asked about concerns that the county will make money off the speed cameras, Weaver said, ‘‘Any money goes back into our traffic safety efforts.”

‘‘Given the number of incidents that have occurred at intersections, this will provide an opportunity for us to highlight some issues that may be able to reduce those numbers,” said County Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown. ‘‘This will also provide us with more public safety opportunities.”

Montgomery’s House delegation voted 22-1, with Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Olney as the lone county lawmaker to vote to sustain the veto. Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 14) of Ashton was absent.

Kaiser said she supported the veto because she believes people accused of breaking the law should have the right to face their accusers. Had the bill been limited to school zones, she would have been inclined to support the measure.

Seven Republicans, including Del. Jean B. Cryor (R-Dist. 15) of Potomac, joined 82 Democrats to support the override. In addition to Kaiser, 11 other Democrats joined 33 Republicans to sustain the veto.

Eighty-five votes are needed in the House to override a gubernatorial veto; the Senate needs 29.

Pros and cons

For supporters, the cameras will bring safety to school zones and quiet suburban streets. But opponents see the cameras as an intrusion in rights.

‘‘This will lead to trial by camera, and I think it’s inherently unfair,” said Del. Tony McConkey (R-Dist. 33A) of Severna Park.

The bill’s detractors — including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) — fear that the cameras would be introduced into other jurisdictions.

‘‘If you give it to one county, the next year other counties will be coming in with the same bill,” said Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. ‘‘Before you know it, it’s a statewide law.”

‘‘It’s up to this body whether it’s a precedent or not,” said Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown.

Barkley and Montgomery County legislators argued that the House should follow the ‘‘local courtesy” rule, meaning if one county wants a particular local law, the rest of the House follows along.

Republicans like Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. (R-Dist. 1C) of Clear Spring said ‘‘local courtesy” was a big reason why he voted to override Ehrlich’s veto.

‘‘Local courtesy should be given to Montgomery County on this issue,” Myers said. ‘‘Slow down. It’s easy.”

Votes were being feverishly rounded up since session began Jan. 11. The override vote was delayed several times because key House members were absent.

‘‘Passage in the House was a total team effort from leadership to the Montgomery County delegation to the leadership,” said David Carroll, a lobbyist for Capitol Strategies who represented Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, which sells speed camera systems. ‘‘It was whole hog.”

Municipalities weigh in

Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo has made the county bill one of his top priorities. Last week he suggested that if the override was successful, the city’s police chief would have a new project to start on.

‘‘The technology has been proven to change driver behavior,” Giammo said. ‘‘The goal here is to get people to slow down in residential neighborhoods.”

Gaithersburg’s Mayor Sidney A. Katz and his city support the bill, but city officials have not discussed whether that city would use the technology.

In Takoma Park, the City Council has gone on the record several times in support of speed cameras, said Community and Government Liaison Suzanne Ludlow. If the override succeeds, Ludlow expects a serious discussion to begin in the city government about how to move forward, including how to pay for the cameras.

Chief Roy Gordon of the Chevy Chase Village Police Department said speed cameras would be a welcome addition. Installing stationary cameras in strategic locations would free up the village’s limited resources to focus on other areas, he said.

‘‘Certainly in our jurisdiction, [on Connecticut Avenue] between Bradley and Chevy Chase Circle, we have a speeding problem,” Gordon said. ‘‘If we didn’t have to spend time there, we could spend more time in our residential streets and school bus stops.”

Similar cameras used in Washington, D.C., have proven to be effective, Gordon said.

‘‘The bottom line is you see it, you see it in the District,” he said. ‘‘Go out on MacArthur Boulevard at dusk. It’s like the paparazzi down there with that thing going off.”

While he supports authorizing the use of the speed cameras, the chief said he hoped at least some of the money collected from the tickets would come back to the village to help support the department.

‘‘I’m not saying, ‘Hey, 100 percent has to come to the village,’” Gordon said. ‘‘But somewhere along the line, once you authorize the cameras, someone has to view those pictures and write those tickets. I think the jurisdiction needs to get something as well.”

Staff Writers Thomas Dennison, Chris Williams, Jaime Ciavarra, Sean Sands and Janel Davis contributed to this report.