Baltimore County

Harford County legislator kills speed camera bill

A Harford County member of the Maryland General Assembly has withdrawn a bill she sponsored to revise the state's speed camera laws, part of a wider legislative effort to either make significant reforms to the controversial speed camera program, or kill it.

Del. Susan McComas, a Bel Air Republican, introduced House Bill 1103 on Feb. 8. The bill included a number of proposed changes, such as doubling the standard $40 civil fine to $80 if a violator is caught speeding in a school or work zone.

McComas told The Aegis via e-mail Monday that she had withdrawn the bill. A hearing before the House of Delegates' Environmental Matters Committee had been scheduled for March 5, but it was canceled Friday, according to the General Assembly website.

McComas said various proposed amendments to the legislation, including some to remove fees in HB 1103, "could have been accepted or rejected" in committee.

"I decided to kill the bill as is my right as the sole sponsor of this bill," she wrote.

McComas was the only sponsor of HB 1103. She said she and her staff had been working with representatives of the Maryland State Police and AAA on legislation "to make it easier for speed camera violations to be contested through a review process."

She had submitted a bill last year, HB 1044, which, if passed, would have required a firm independent of the speed camera contractor to oversee the equipment recalibrations. The bill was not passed, and McComas wanted to resubmit the legislation this year, and include provisions which allow for ways for suspected violators to contest their citations.

HB 1103 included the $80 fines for school and work zones, additional penalties of $30 and 1 percent interest per month if a violator does not pay or contest a fine within 30 days of receiving the citation, and finally, a $10 fee to be paid to the appropriate agency if a suspected violator seeks an administrative review of a citation.

The legislation required the agency to reimburse the $10 fee "if the person prevails."

Any "local jurisdiction that authorizes the use of speed monitoring systems" would be required to provide data online about the locations of speed cameras, the results of the required regular tests and calibration adjustments, information about each recorded violation that only the alleged violator would have access to, as well as guidance on, how to contest the citation and providing a method to pay the fine.

HB 1103 would also have prohibited placing a speed camera system on the same side of the road as another camera system, or less than one mile from another system, unless at least one camera is in a school zone.

McComas said the original version was "a collaborative product" of work between her staff and the staff at the General Assembly's Department of Legislative Services, which assists legislators with researching and drafting bills.

She said she and her staff were working on amendments to HB 1103, but ultimately decided to kill it.

"The responsibility for its content is ultimately mine and since the bill did not accurately reflect my intent, I withdrew it," McComas wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "Withdrawing bills is a common practice among legislators for any number of reasons. Additionally, the opinions, wishes and welfare of my constituents are always the determining factor in my work in the Legislature and are the highest consideration when I am developing public policy."

Speed cameras have been scrutinized by local media – including an extensive investigation late last year by The Aegis' sister publication, The Baltimore Sun – state and local officials and the public in recent months, as a number of motorists have claimed they were issued tickets when they were not speeding, or even stopped.

Baltimore officials are planning to replace the 83 cameras stationed around the city, and dropped the previous vendor for a new one, Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County, as of Jan. 1, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

McComas is not the only legislator looking to reform the speed camera program; Democratic state Sen. James Brochin of Towson, along with four fellow senators, is sponsoring Senate Bill 207, which includes provisions to refine the process of human interpretation of the cameras' tracking of suspected speeders and other reforms.

A hearing before the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Two more bills, House Bill 251, sponsored by Del. Michael Smigiel Sr., an Elkton Republican and 12 other delegates, and Senate Bill 785, sponsored by Upper Eastern Shore Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin and two fellow senators, would repeal counties' and municipalities' authority to use the speed cameras to "enforce highway speed laws" according to the General Assembly website.

McComas wrote in her e-mail Monday that she would vote for HB 251, and if the bill "is successful, there will be no need to try to increase protections next year."

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