Red-light camera bill shelved in Senate

ATLANTA - Efforts to impose state regulations on local governments' use of red-light cameras keep coming up in the General Assembly and keep getting shot down.

After a lively debate, the Senate tabled a bill Wednesday requiring cities and counties to obtain permits from the Georgia Department of Transportation for every red-light camera they wish to install.

The legislation also would make local governments promise to use the cameras only to improve public safety, not as a way to enrich their coffers.

"We're not saying you don't need red-light cameras," said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. "We're just saying you have got to prove they're for health and safety ... not just revenue generation."

The bill originated in the House last year as an effort to prohibit red-light cameras altogether but was soon hijacked by the camera's defenders.

Eventually, the House passed a version of the bill that, instead of getting rid of the program, added restrictions aimed at discouraging what critics considered a potential for abuse.

However, the bill never reached the Senate floor last year because it was tabled by the Public Safety Committee.

Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, defended the program Wednesday as both effective and popular with the public.

He said one of Gwinnett County's most dangerous intersections, U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124, has seen significantly fewer accidents since the installation of a red-light camera.

Balfour said his office recently conducted a survey of about 1,000 of his constituents and found widespread support for the cameras.

"These things change driving behavior," he said.

But the bill was criticized on Wednesday by opponents on both sides of the issue.

Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta, called the cameras an intrusion into Georgians' personal liberties.

"Government shouldn't be taking a picture of you and accusing you of committing a crime if you have no right to contest it," he said.

Senators voted 49-4 to table the bill after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the chamber's presiding officer, criticized several attempts by senators to essentially gut the measure as "Mickey Mouse amendments."