Red-light camera ban gets green light from committee

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DENVER -- A group of Colorado police chiefs and a number of people in wheelchairs couldn't stop a bipartisan proposal to ban red light cameras across the state, which lawmakers voted out of committee Monday afternoon.

"We should be about safety, we shouldn't be about revenue," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. "These cameras are about revenue."

Renfroe, who is running for Congress, has sponsored the proposal twice before, but only now does the bill have solid bipartisan support, with Democrats who favor the legislation touching on privacy concerns.

"Red light and speeding cameras diminish the civil liberties of Coloradans," said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who is co-sponsoring Renfroe's bill. "We all have a constitutional right to address an accuser, even if the accusation is a traffic violation."

While the bill seems broadly popular with the public, law enforcement and the Colorado Municipal League strongly oppose the state stepping in and telling cities they can no longer use red light camera technology, which they argue has reduced traffic accidents.

"Again and again when I'm out talking to people, I'm told that people have changed their behavior because of the presence of these cameras," Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates told the Senate Transportation Committee.

Chief Michelle Tovrea of Cherry Hills Village told FOX31 Denver that her community hasn't seen a fatal traffic accident at the intersection of University and Belleview since installing its only red light camera there.

"Traffic accidents have gone down," she said.

Renfroe, who dismissed much of the research showing a public safety impact that's been underwritten by red light camera companies or the cities the use them, said that lengthening yellow lights would improve public safety without denying drivers their due process.

"Red light cameras take a picture, but they don't tell a story," he said. "People have a story and they should have a right to confront their accuser, that due process that's constitutionally given to our citizens. You don't have that with a red light camera ticket."

In Aurora, for example, just three percent of drivers who get tickets from red light cameras contest their tickets; of those, 23 percent are dismissed, Oates testified.

Julie Farrar, one of three handicapped people who showed up in wheelchairs to testify Monday, argued that the cameras help protect pedestrians and should be kept.

"Please remember we are talking about people: cyclists, people in wheelchairs, children, people with visual impairments, seniors, versus people in cars that weigh several thousand pounds getting caught on camera breaking the law," she said.

If the proposal becomes law, Colorado would be the 10th state in the country to ban red light cameras.