Kelli Cook, Guest Report to The Golden Hammer
Citizens and City Officials crowded into a Texas Senate Transportation Committee hearing, which Senator Robert Nichols chaired on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, to debate the fate of red light cameras in Texas. The city officials were begging to keep the cash cows, while the citizens demanded banning red light cameras so they could reclaim constitutional rights of due process. Getting a ticket by a red light camera violates your right to face your accuser, the right to a trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and fair and equal protection under the law.
Senator Bob Hall, the bill’s author, decided at the last minute after the citizens had registered positions of support for the bill to pull a bait and switch move. He submitted a substitute bill that would allow cities with camera programs to keep their cameras. This move resulted in not banning cameras at all, but merely prohibiting cities that don’t have them from getting them.
Several citizens from Montgomery County showed up in Austin to either testify or register in support of the original bill. Among those who traveled to Austin was former Constable’s Captain Rusty Fincher.
When called for comment to this newspaper, Fincher said, “What we need is a bill that completely outlaws them.” Fincher explained the basic issues with the cameras saying, “Number one, the wrecks have increased from what I understand and, number two, it’s another thing the government is charging us for. It’s not fair to the taxpayers.”
Montgomery County’s Kelli Cook testified in support of the bill. That prepared testimony is reproduced at the end of this article.
The trend of cities installing cameras has sharply declined. Citizens across Texas have kicked cameras out of a long list of cities either by political pressure or by forcing them onto the ballots with petition drives. As a result, there was very little value in Senator Hall’s new version of the cameras ban bill. Senator Nichols left the bill pending in the Committee.
Governor Abbott posted a message to Twitter the night before the Senate hearing expressing his support for banning red light cameras and stating his concern for due process rights. Governor Abbott has stated his support on this issue repeatedly. The Republican Party Platform supports banning photo enforcement as well. This issue has wide support all across the political spectrum. There is no good reason to try to protect profits of the camera vendors at this point.
The good news is that Representative Jonathan Stickland’s camera ban bill has over 100 sponsors in the Texas House. Stickland’s bill will likely receive a hearing as early as Tuesday of next week. Stickland is encouraging Texas drivers all over the State to come to the Capitol and register support FOR HB 1631. If you haven’t had the chance to visit the Capitol yet this session, please consider doing so to take a stand for due process rights. There will be plenty of people to testify in favor of banning the cameras, so we don’t need more speakers, but we need to show up and register at the kiosks FOR the bill. The trick is you must be in Austin to do so.
Kelli Cook’s entire statement to the Senate Transportation Committee follows:
Hi my name is Kelli Cook. I am a resident of Willis and a Constituent of Senator Nichols.
To be clear, I stand with Governor Abbott when he called for prohibiting red light cameras and pre-empting any local ordinance or policies permitting red-light camera already in force.
Contrary to what the camera companies and their business partners that are here today will say, Red Light Cameras have made intersections I drive through more dangerous. This fact may be, because Willis City Council colluded with the State to shorten the yellow light times when cameras were installed.
Or it maybe it’s because city councils all over the State of Texas defied state law that required a transportation study by an engineer BEFORE installing cameras and issuing tickets to drivers. As you are probably aware, there is a current lawsuit awaiting the Texas Supreme Court’s decision. The Willis resident’s case contends cities are illegally ticketing drivers and violating their Texas Constitutional rights.
But we shouldn’t shirk our duty waiting for the courts to remedy this problem. It was created here at the Capitol and it should be fixed here. Red Light camera companies need to pack up and leave Texas as soon as possible, not in another 10 or 20 years when their contracts expire.
I am doing my part in Willis by trying to replace city officials that abuse the citizens by putting profit over safety. The cameras do help expose the bad politicians. I also led a petition drive to force the camera onto the ballot. Despite our diligence and the city verifying we had adequate signatures, our citizen lead petition drive was tossed in the trash. Unlike Houston and Arlington, Willis voters’ rights were unconstitutionally denied.
As a reminder, the Republican Party Platform (Plank 110) states, “We urge the Texas Legislature to enact legislation for the statewide ban of all photo enforcement ticket cameras, such as red-light cameras, speed cameras, and external-facing cameras on buses.”
In closing I see the red light camera program as a failed experiment that tramples our due process rights and makes us less safe. It is especially difficult for people without disposable income to pay these penalties that don’t know how easy many counties make it for you to simply throw the tickets in the trash with no consequence. People are intimidated into paying them by the barrage of lawyer letters they get in the mail demanding money.
I appreciate Senator Nichols holding a hearing on this issue and I appreciate Senator Hall’s efforts in getting rid of cameras as quickly as possible and his aversion to violating the Texas Constitution, especially Article 1, Section 15, that ensures we have the right to a trial by jury. Which is NOT an option when a camera company mails your car a ticket.
I do NOT support the grandfather clause that permits cities to run out and renew and keep their contracts before the ban goes into effect. The intersections with red light cameras are a threat to public safety. Let’s leave it to the police to enforce traffic laws, not out of state vendors who take no oath to the constitution and are only in it for the money.
Kelli Cook is the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty.