The state Senate could vote as soon as Tuesday to bar the state and local governments from paying speed camera contractors based on ticket volume and to require that all automated speeding tickets issued in Maryland give drivers enough information to fact-check their citations.
A Senate committee eliminated another provision last week that would have confined the deployment of the cameras to within 500 feet of a school. That was a win for Baltimore City, which places its cameras up to a half-mile from schools under an approach that makes most of the city eligible for the radar-equipped devices.
Also scrapped was a requirement to paint lines at set distances on roads near speed cameras to assist with verification. Critics complained it would have made area roads look like zebras.
Sen. James Brochin drafted the bill after a Baltimore Sun investigation documented a range of problems with the devices, including inaccurate speed readings from several city cameras and the inability of motorists to verify citations issued by the State Highway Administration, Baltimore County and Howard County.
The Sun series also highlighted the practice of the city, Baltimore County and other local governments of paying their vendors a share of each $40 fine paid by motorists — a so-called bounty system that Gov. Martin O'Malley and some lawmakers have said they believe is already prohibited by law.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which Brochin sits, approved the amended bill last week, 11-0. The Towson Democrat said he believes the Senate will pass his bill but isn't sure about its prospects in the House of Delegates.
"This legislation is simple, it's clear and it moves the ball forward," he said. "If we have to have speed cameras, which I would prefer we didn't, we need to make it fair, so trust in government is somewhat restored."
The House is considering its own speed camera legislation. Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who is chairman of the House transportation subcommittee, has a bill that would require more prominent road signs and underscore that a police officer must approve each ticket.
Lawmakers are expected to propose more provisions to that bill.
In addition, Del. Jon S. Cardin, also a Baltimore County Democrat, wants to impose a $1,000 fine for each erroneous ticket on "the person responsible for maintaining the speed monitoring system."
Efforts to change the 2009 law that legalized speed cameras in Maryland have met with some resistance. Some lawmakers from Montgomery County have said statewide law shouldn't be changed over problems that have been found in Baltimore.
City officials, for their part, haven't voiced support for changes, although they are replacing the city's 78 speed cameras and revamping the citation review process.
The 2009 law says a government can't pay a contractor on a per-citation basis if the contractor "operates" the government's camera system. Area governments have argued that provision does not apply in their cases because they, not the vendor, operate the system.
In December, O'Malley said he disagreed with that logic.
"The law says you're not supposed to charge by volume," he said. "I don't think we should charge by volume. If any county is, they need to change their program."
Some lawmakers said the bounty approach was prohibited to eliminate any financial incentive for a contractor to process questionable tickets.
Baltimore County pays Xerox State and Local Solutions nearly $19 of each $40 fine payment. The city is paying its new vendor, Brekford Corp., $11.20 per ticket and has pulled in more than $48 million in speed camera fines since 2009.
In an attempt to clarify the prohibition, Brochin's bill would bar per-ticket payments to any contractor that "provides, deploys or administers and processes" speed camera tickets.
While the bill doesn't say whether or how it applies to existing contracts, Brochin said a lawyer for the Senate committee advised him it would bar any government from paying a bounty after Oct. 1, the bill's proposed effective date.
"They're going to have to redo the contracts," Brochin said, and instead pay vendors a flat fee.
His bill also would require that the two time-stamped photos on each speed camera ticket "provide sufficient information to allow for the calculation of the speed of the motor vehicle."
Baltimore gives motorists a pair of photos stamped to the thousandth of a second as evidence they broke the law. Baltimore County, Howard County and the State Highway Administration give motorists pictures with times rounded off to the second, which is insufficiently precise to prove speeding.
The city's system gives motorists enough information to prove camera error. The Sun used detailed time stamps on several city tickets, along with physical measurements of how far a car traveled, to show the actual speed differed from the speed recorded by the radar, sometimes significantly.
Brochin said committee members debated making it mandatory for all speed camera tickets to list the time of each photo to the thousandth of a second. The committee decided it did not want to "micromanage" the process, he said.
While he thinks the most practical way to provide "sufficient" information would be to offer detailed time stamps, he said, "If there is another technology a vendor wants to employ to give people that information, more power to them. But it's got to be something."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun