Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s recent veto of a bill to allow speed cameras in Montgomery County was in some ways similar, philosophically, to his veto two years ago of a bill to allow the cameras across the state. The Republican governor opposed both bills, in part on the grounds that the cameras are an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of Marylanders.
But this year's measure came with an added twist that supporters hoped would dissuade Ehrlich from shooting it down. The bill applied only in Montgomery, and customarily, legislators and the governor defer on legislation that applies only to local jurisdictions.
Ehrlich's veto of the bill -- which would have permitted automated cameras that monitor roadways and issue tickets to speeders -- angered many Montgomery County officials who had lobbied hard in both houses of the General Assembly, where it passed by comfortable margins.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said in a statement that he was "extremely disappointed" by the veto.
"Perhaps the governor thinks that our roads are safe and that speeding is not a public safety threat, but the law enforcement professionals in my community don't believe that -- and neither do I," Duncan said. "Far too many people are killed or injured each year in Maryland in accidents that involve speeding motorists."
The bill would have permitted the installation of cameras in residential areas or school zones. Only drivers traveling 10 mph or greater over the speed limit could have been cited by the automated cameras, which use radar technology to capture speeders.
The District and four states -- Utah, New York, Oregon and Colorado -- permit the use of speed cameras. Red-light cameras, which use similar technology to catch drivers running red lights, have been in use in the District and Maryland for several years. Virginia legislators in February allowed a 10-year pilot program in that state to expire.
Ehrlich and other opponents say the Montgomery speed camera bill was local in name only -- that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who do not live in Montgomery but drive through the county would be affected by the bill.
"It is not and was not a local initiative," House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), who led opposition to the measure on the House floor, said in an interview. "It affects all the citizens of Maryland . . . so we had every right to have an interest in the policy considerations."
Ehrlich vetoed the measure on May 20, along with 26 other bills. In his veto message, he wrote that speed cameras would be "another step toward the pervasive use of cameras by the government to monitor and regulate the conduct of its people."
"There are times when this type of surveillance is appropriate," he continued. "I am, however, reluctant to approve its use in the absence of extraordinary circumstances."
The Montgomery County Council endorsed the bill, and it was overwhelmingly approved by the Montgomery delegation to the General Assembly.
Eighty people died in traffic collisions in Montgomery in 2004 -- a record high since the police department started keeping countywide statistics in 1995. The previous high was 66 deaths in 2001. Police say one of the most common causes of fatal accidents is excessive speed.
Montgomery police officials endorsed the speed-camera bill, saying that the department's lean workforce -- the county has one of the lowest officer-per-capita rates in the country -- prevents them from using scarce manpower to crack down on speeders.
"There's no way we could hire enough officers to enforce speeding [laws] throughout the county," said Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), who chairs the council's public safety committee. "Cameras, though, could substitute and would be very effective at deterring speeding."
Montgomery Del. William A. Bronrott (D), who helped lead the effort to pass the bill in the General Assembly, said there appears to be support to try passing a similar bill next year. The measure passed the House this year 85-42 and the Senate 29-17.
"It was a hard-fought effort to get the bill passed, but I think the combination of the public safety concerns that we conveyed, plus the general acceptance of our plea for local courtesy, led to strong majorities in both houses," Bronrott said. "It was very disappointing to have the bill vetoed."
The cameras have proven to be effective revenue generators. In the District, local officials recently estimated that more than $72 million has been collected by the city's speed camera program since it began in July 2001.
Ehrlich and other critics of the bill opposed the measure in part, they said, because they feared local governments would allow for the unchecked expansion of cameras for purely monetary reasons.
General Assembly policy analysts estimated that the Montgomery speed camera bill would have brought in a net total of $1.8 million in 2006.