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Editorial: Adopt camera safeguards

Technology marches on - and when it comes to government use of automated cameras to enforce speed laws, it's not going to march backward, no matter how fervently some Maryland motorists might wish. The cameras are too good a source of revenue, and too convenient for police departments, which are enabled to make better use of their scarce manpower.

But if jurisdictions are going to have speed cameras, they need to run them properly. That's why Del. Herb McMillan, of Annapolis, hardly a fan of big government, is co-sponsoring House Bill 929. The legislation would put some needed controls on the speed cameras the legislature decided to allow in school zones.

Some trust-building is in order after the mess in Baltimore, in which an 84-location camera system had to be shut down, and other problems that have come to light elsewhere in the state where the cameras are used.

McMillan's bill - co-sponsored by Del. James Malone, a Baltimore County Democrat - grew out of work that started in the last session. It has the support of the Maryland Municipal League, the Maryland Association of Counties and AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The measure mandates that, at least as of June 1, 2017, contractors not be paid on a per-ticket basis. This eliminates what McMillan justly dubs "the bounty system" - a way of doing things that discourages contractors from worrying that their machines are handing out too many $40 tickets. The bill also specifies that if more than 5 percent of tickets in any calendar year are erroneous, the contractor is subject to damages equal to at least 50 percent of the fines.

The bill mandates the cameras be tested daily and be given an annual calibration check by someone independent of the contractor. It specifies that a school zone is within half a mile of a school building, and mandates that jurisdictions with these programs have an ombudsman who can take complaints and, if need be, cancel citations.

We're not sure why the bill maintains that school zones involved have speed limits of 20 mph and up. What if a jurisdiction wants a 15 mph limit near its schools? But otherwise, the bill is a constructive step to build trust in a program the public is going to have to live with.

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