Republican lawmaker mulling bill to ban speed, red-light cameras in District


Kerry Bentivolio campaigning in Livonia, Mich., Nov. 5, 2012. (Paul Sancya/AP)
June 27, 2013

In recent years, Congressional Republicans have taken aim at the District’s gun restrictions, abortion funding, needle-exchange programs and medical marijuana laws, with varying degrees of success.

Now they may have a new local target — traffic cameras.

Freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) is drafting a bill that could ban or restrict the use of speed and red-light cameras in the District. Though Bentivolio has circulated a draft bill that would only apply to the District, his office said the final details and scope of the measure aren’t finished yet.

If Bentivolio offers such a bill there is no guarantee it would get a committee hearing or a House vote, but Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) still sounded the alarm over the proposal Thursday.

“Representative Bentivolio has been in Congress barely six months, but, with this bill, has already violated his professed support for small government and local control of local affairs,” Norton said in a news release. “Traffic laws here and everywhere else in the U.S. are local safety matters. In the District of Columbia, like everywhere else, local traffic laws are written by local elected officials, not members of Congress who are unaccountable to D.C. residents.”

Norton suggested that if Bentivolio “believes that automated traffic enforcement systems, which are used throughout the country, are bad public policy, why didn’t he draft a bill that applies nationwide? He is singling out the District because he thinks he can.”

(Norton and local activists issued a similar criticism last year of Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the sponsor of a bill to ban abortions in the District after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Franks amended his bill this year to apply to the whole country.)

Bentivolio spokesman Matt Chisholm said his boss “was sent to Washington to protect the people’s rights, not take them away. The final version of this bill will do just that.”

As for Norton’s complaints, Chisholm said: “I’m not sure what version of the bill she has been looking it. We have drafted several versions at this point. Our office will be happy to deliver a copy to her once the bill has been finalized and introduced. We look forward to her feedback.”

Speed and red-light cameras brought $84.9 million into the District’s coffers in fiscal 2012. While some critics contend the city views the cameras primarily as a source of revenue, local police say they make the streets safer while allowing officers to focus on priorities other than just ticketing speeders.

A dozen states have moved to ban speed cameras, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, and some conservatives and Libertarians say cameras can lead to abuse by the authorities and lack of due process for drivers.

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