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Speed camera reform gains momentum with Maryland lawmakers

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Liz Essley,Metro and Traffic

Support is growing among lawmakers in Maryland for reforms to the state's speed camera law.

The effort comes after a Baltimore Sun investigation found widespread problems with that city's speed camera program, including cameras issuing tickets to cars that weren't speeding -- or in one case, not even moving.

"There's going to be a stampede of people introducing legislation now," said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County. "We can make it more fair than it is now."

Speed cameras in Maryland have been chronically unpopular with drivers and some lawmakers, but now even supporters like Frosh are looking to make changes.

The problems go beyond Baltimore: A recent state audit of work zone cameras -- which are run by the same company that operates Baltimore's program and include one on the Capital Beltway --found that half the violations recorded by the cameras were unusable and that there were no benchmarks to make sure the company was doing a good job.

AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend said past attempts to reform the state's speed camera law failed, but that this will likely be the year for change.

"We always knew when they passed the statewide program three years ago, there would be somebody who would just get the whole program wrong. And that's what's happening," Townsend said. "You have a lot of these programs being driven by a vendor and not a law enforcement agency."

Among other reforms, state lawmakers are looking to tweak the state law to clarify that jurisdictions cannot pay camera vendors on a per-ticket basis, something that many say is already illegal.

Frosh said he would support legislation ending that per-ticket -- or "bounty" -- system, a practice that encourages the perception that the camera tickets are for revenue, not safety.

"They want to contract it out -- OK -- but don't pay them on a per-ticket basis," Frosh said.

Right now many Maryland jurisdictions pay private companies who set up and maintain the cameras a certain percentage of each ticket.

For example, Montgomery County brought in nearly $14 million in speeding ticket revenue in fiscal year 2012, but $7 million of that to the company that operates the program, leaving the county with about $7 million.

Local officials say they do not violate state law because police departments are ultimately operating the programs, not private companies.

But critics, including speed camera supporter Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, have said that wasn't the intent of the law.

"The intention of the legislation is that it wouldn't be predicated on a per-ticket basis. But for all intents and purposes, that's exactly what it is," Townsend said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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