Group's Web Site, Facebook Help Fuel Petition Drive by Speed Camera Opponents

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An effort to halt Maryland's new speed camera law before it takes effect this fall faces its first hurdle this week, as organizers scramble to gather enough signatures, through both old-fashioned legwork and new technologies, to put the issue before voters next year.

The grass-roots group Maryland for Responsible Enforcement is seeking to take advantage of a provision in the state Constitution that allows citizens to petition just-passed laws to referendum. The law being targeted would authorize speed cameras in work zones and near schools across the state. The first third of roughly 53,000 required signatures must be turned in by midnight May 31 for the campaign to continue. If the effort succeeds, the speed camera law will be suspended until voters get a say in November 2010, when Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is up for reelection.

The group, spearheaded by a pair of Montgomery County activists and aided by the Maryland Republican Party and one of the state's most colorful lobbyists, is employing some of the tactics of previous petition drives: trolling for signatures at Metro stops, community events and other places people tend to gather.

But it is also seeking to leverage the power of the Internet to a degree not seen in previous Maryland petition drives, which tend to fail as often as they succeed.

Petition forms, for example, can be downloaded directly from the group's Web site.

And organizers have set up a page on Facebook, the social networking site, to recruit fellow Marylanders who see speed cameras as an intrusion into privacy and a money grab by local jurisdictions. As of yesterday, more than 3,200 members had signed up on the page, which seeks contributions of 100 signatures apiece.

"We are trying to utilize the technology that's out there to help with the effort," said Justin Shuy, the group's executive director. "Facebook was a good way to reach out to people."

Under current law, Montgomery is the only Maryland jurisdiction in which speed cameras are allowed. They are also used by the District but not allowed in Virginia.

The statewide law the Maryland legislature passed last month is scheduled to take effect in October. Signed last week by O'Malley, it will allow the state to station cameras near highway work areas. Counties and towns will be able to decide whether to have the cameras in half-mile zones around schools. Drivers seen traveling at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit can expect a ticket of up to $40.

The measure, which barely survived a series of Senate votes, has been hailed by proponents as a common-sense way to deter speeding and save lives without having to increase more costly police patrols.

"Speed cameras actually have an extremely salutary impact on people's conduct in places where people shouldn't be speeding," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had jurisdiction over the legislation. "It's a useful tool."

Frosh said he was uncertain whether the petition drive will succeed but is hopeful that it will fail.

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