Md. Senate Votes No On Statewide Devices

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Maryland Senate last night rejected by one vote a bill to authorize the use of cameras to catch speeding drivers across the state.

The cameras are allowed only in Montgomery County. The measure would have allowed them in highway work zones and near schools in other jurisdictions.

But some senators said they were concerned that the cameras would be used largely to raise revenue for local governments and that they would represent an unprecedented intrusion into residents' private lives. One senator read aloud from George Orwell's novel "1984."

The Senate has for years been more hostile to speed cameras than the House of Delegates. A compromise worked out between the chambers last year died on the final day of the session when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) failed to bring it to a vote, fearing a filibuster.

But there had been growing momentum for the bill in recent days. On Tuesday, senators voted 26 to 19 to broaden their proposal to include school zones.

Miller backed the amendment, but yesterday he voted against the bill as it failed on a 23 to 24 vote. He declined to comment afterward, which was unusual for the normally loquacious chamber leader.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) favored the legislation. His spokesman said last night that he would work with senators to reconsider the vote in coming days. The House passed bills yesterday to allow the cameras in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Howard counties, where officials have requested them.

Supporters of the cameras say they make roads safer because drivers slow down when they know cameras are there.

"If you don't want to get a ticket, all you have to do is drive the speed limit," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery).

But opponents said the tickets erase the presumption of innocence. Vehicle owners sent a ticket must go to court and convince a judge that they were not driving at the time to avoid the fine.

Sen. George W. Della Jr. (D-Baltimore) told fellow senators that he was recently ticketed by a camera in the District, where the devices are allowed. When he examined the citation, he realized that the license plate pictured in the photo belonged to a car he owned years ago.

"It was a blatant error," he said.

But Della said that when he called to complain, he was told that the only way to avoid paying the ticket would be to explain the problem at a court hearing.

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.

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