Bills that would have allowed some Virginia communities to keep red-light cameras at intersections died in a House of Delegates committee Monday, jeopardizing the state's decade-long experiment with the technology.
The patrons of the measures that would have allowed the devices beyond their July 1, 2005, expiration date decided to let their bills from this year's legislative session expire in the face of continued opposition in the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. That panel has rejected efforts to extend or expand the use of the cameras for several years.
But one of the sponsors of the measures, Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), said she and others would resubmit legislation that would give jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads the ability to use the technology. She also suggested that she would be able to gain the necessary support from the committee.
"I will be redrafting a bill to bring back in the 2005 session, and I think you'll see others will do the same," she told the committee. She said in an interview that she had gotten commitments of support from members of the panel.
"I would, by one vote, say that I can get this through if everyone sticks to their commitment," she said, declining to name the members. She added that she also would be open to extending the expiration date.
The devices, which automatically snap photos of vehicles when they run red lights, are favored by many law enforcement officials for safety reasons, but they have raised concerns among some legislators because privacy advocates say the cameras are intrusive and unfair.
Over the past several legislative sessions, supporters from urban areas have run up against lawmakers from such less-congested rural areas as Southside and Southwest Virginia, who say the cameras are an invasion of motorists' privacy.
Opponents of the measures seemed unwilling to give any ground Monday.
"I will fight it every step of the way," said Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) as he left the panel's meeting. He, along with other opponents, said there are other ways to crack down on motorists who run red lights without eroding Virginians' right to privacy. "Slowly over time you give away too much" liberty, he said.
Even those who support the use of cameras said it would be tough for the legislation to pass through the House committee in the 2005 session, and they wondered which members might be willing to change their minds.
"This is a hard-shell committee," said Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria). She is one of four Northern Virginia lawmakers on the 22-member committee. "I'm not sure why a change in session would change the attitudes of those on the committee."
Red-light cameras are allowed in six Northern Virginia localities: Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church and Vienna, as well as Arlington and Fairfax counties. Virginia is one of 14 states that allow them in some capacity, as does the District. But unlike the Old Dominion, the District and Maryland have embraced the technology as an efficient way to reduce accidents and congestion, despite some complaints in both jurisdictions over how the cameras are used and who benefits from them.
More than 70 percent of motorists in AAA's Virginia surveys support use of the cameras. But many opponents say there are alternatives that are just as effective, such as extending the length of yellow lights and placing unmanned police cars at intersections to slow motorists.