Ohio jus­tices strike traf­fic cam­eras law

The court found that it was il­le­gal to re­quire that an of­fi­cer be present when cam­eras were be­ing used, that there must be a lengthy safety study and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paign be­fore cam­eras are used, and that driv­ers could be tick­eted only if they exce

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - DAN SEWELL In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mark Gil­lispie of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

CINCIN­NATI — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wed­nes­day up­held cities’ use of traf­fic cam­era en­force­ment for a third time, strik­ing down as un­con­sti­tu­tional leg­isla­tive re­stric­tions that in­cluded re­quir­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer to be present.

The rul­ing was 5-2 in sup­port of the city of Day­ton’s chal­lenge of pro­vi­sions in a state law that took ef­fect in 2015. The city said the law im­prop­erly limited lo­cal con­trol and un­der­cut cam­era en­force­ment that makes cities safer by re­duc­ing red­light run­ning and speed­ing. Day­ton and other cities, in­clud­ing Toledo and Spring­field, said the law’s re­stric­tions made traf­fic cam­eras cost-pro­hib­i­tive.

The court found that it was il­le­gal to re­quire that an of­fi­cer be present when cam­eras were be­ing used, that there must be a lengthy safety study and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paign be­fore cam­eras are used, and that driv­ers could be tick­eted only if they ex­ceeded the posted speed limit by cer­tain amounts, such as by 6 mph in a school zone.

A ma­jor­ity opin­ion writ­ten by Jus­tice Pa­trick Fis­cher found that those three re­stric­tions “un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally [limit] the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s home-rule author­ity with­out serv­ing an over­rid­ing state in­ter­est.”

The state’s high­est court has twice pre­vi­ously ruled in fa­vor of cities that use such cam­eras.

Jus­tice Pa­trick DeWine wrote a dis­sent­ing opin­ion, say­ing the leg­is­la­tion was “a compromise” meant to deal with con­cerns that cam­eras were be­ing mis­used to gen­er­ate rev­enue while al­low­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties “some op­por­tu­nity” to em­ploy cam­eras.

“To­day’s de­ci­sion has the un­for­tu­nate im­pact of fur­ther mud­dling a body of law that is al­ready hope­lessly con­fused,” DeWine wrote. Jus­tice Wil­liam O’Neill also dis­sented.

The state had con­tended that the law was within the Leg­is­la­ture’s pow­ers as a “statewide and com­pre­hen­sive” way to reg­u­late en­force­ment of traf­fic rules. Sup­port­ers said of­fi­cers were needed to de­tect cam­era mal­func­tions and sit­u­a­tions that clearly called for an ex­emp­tion from tick­et­ing.

An Ohio state sen­a­tor who helped write the law called the de­ci­sion a “Pyrrhic vic­tory” for home-rule cities and vil­lages, and pledged Wed­nes­day that leg­is­la­tors will keep fight­ing “polic­ing for profit.” Cincin­nati Repub­li­can Sen. Bill Seitz said the Leg­is­la­ture has “other tools in the tool kit,” such as re­duc­ing amounts cities and vil­lages re­ceive through the state’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment fund.

Day­ton po­lice, whose use of traf­fic cam­eras goes back nearly 15 years, were al­ready plan­ning to soon re­sume us­ing of­fi­cer-manned fixed cam­eras at cer­tain sites, say­ing traf­fic crashes had shot up af­ter cam­era en­force­ment halted. Day­ton is also among cities equip­ping some of­fi­cers with new hand-held cam­eras to record vi­o­la­tions.

City spokesman Toni Bankston said Day­ton is pleased with the court’s de­ci­sion.

“In light of this rul­ing, we will be­gin the process of re­view­ing and an­a­lyz­ing the best way to pro­ceed with our en­force­ment pro­gram,” Bankston said in a state­ment.

Ohio has been a bat­tle­ground for years in the de­bate across the United States over cam­era en­force­ment. Crit­ics say cities use them to boost rev­enue while vi­o­lat­ing mo­torists’ rights. Sup­port­ers say they in­crease safety and free up po­lice for other crime fight­ing.

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s spokesman, Dan Tier­ney, said Wed­nes­day that the case couldn’t be ap­pealed to the U.S. Supreme Court be­cause it in­volved a solely state law.

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