NASHVILLE, May 25, 2016 — In the 2015 legislative session, I sought to outlaw all speed and red light cameras in the State of Tennessee. It was an incredibly hard battle against cities and private companies that have become literally addicted to taxpayer dollars. I was only partly successful in this battle.
I managed to outlaw the future installation of speed cameras. However, cities that had existing contracts had to be allowed to let those contract expire.
By Rep. Andy Holt
Most of them happened to be expiring within the next year. Like typical addicts, they rushed to their dealers. Multiple cities across the state extended their contracts for 20+ years just days before the law went into effective. At the end of the 2015 session, I promised to keep up the fight in my first “The Truth About Tenn. Traffic Cameras” release and exposed many of the disturbing practices used by cities employ the cameras and the out-of-state companies that manufacture them. Through various news outlets, that report was shared more than 100,000 times on social media. A new year has passed, and with it, a whole new battle that revealed new deceptive practices that the people of Tennessee have a right to know about traffic cameras.
In the 2016 session, my legislative analyst Mike Lotfi and I sat down and discussed various holes in Tennessee’s traffic camera scheme. One of the biggest holes we found is that the cities using these cameras are violating state law in a major way. The second hole is how cities and companies are purposefully deceiving and manipulating people into paying cameras citations through false legal and financial threats.
CITIES & TRAFFIC CAMERA DEALERS VIOLATE LAW
Tennessee State law that mandates “only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers shall be authorized to review video evidence from a traffic light signal monitoring system and make a determination as to whether or not a violation has occurred” (TCA 55-8-198 B(1)).
However, that’s not happening.
Even though state law mandates that no one other than law enforcement may view the video evidence and determine whether or not a violation has occurred, traffic camera companies view the video footage and determine whether or not a violation has occurred well in advance of law enforcement. The companies then send the scrubbed footage back to law enforcement after they have deleted all the instances of violations where they feel the law had not been violated. Police then view this footage a second time to confirm.
In fact, companies readily admit to breaking this state law. Their own commercials say that their employees review the footage to determine whether or not a violation has occurred before sending the footage back to police.
So, this effectively means that someone across the country is breaking state law while accusing you of a crime and forcing you to pay a $50 fine. The cities argue that because the police sign off on the citations that the company sends back to them, that it’s not the company making the decision to charge you. Since when do non-certified, out-of-state (and sometimes out-of-country) employees have the legal authority to determine whether or not the law was violated in the first place and send it to police for confirmation?
That would be like you or I saying, ‘Well, I don’t think I ran the red light, so I’m just going to delete the evidence and not send it to police.’ Wouldn’t it be convenient if you knew someone who worked there? How many times do these employees mess up? When were they given legal jurisdiction over the people of Tennessee?
The letter of the law is quite plain and simple. It doesn’t say “a traffic camera company can determine whether or not the law was broken, then forward it to local police to verify.” It says, definitively, only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers have the legal authority to view this footage and determine whether or not the law was broken. Therefore, they are actually breaking the law twice. Once by even viewing the footage in the first place and again by determining whether or not the law was broken before sending it to police for verification.
How can the millions of dollars in traffic camera citations that have been issued in the State of Tennessee be valid if the law was clearly broken to issue them in the first place? In my opinion, they aren’t. I’m working on a plan of action here. If successful, I hope to see millions of dollars returned to Tennessee tax-payers, but more on that later.
CITIES USING COERCION, FALSE LEGAL THREATS
Another thing we discovered was the depth of deception and coercion that cities and companies are willing to practice in order to score a quick $50 off of granny.
This session, I passed legislation that requires all traffic camera citations to print on them, in large-bold letters, “NON-PAYMENT OF THIS VIOLATION CANNOT HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON YOUR DRIVERS LICENSE, CAR INSURANCE RATES, OR CREDIT REPORT,” which is already state law.
Although this is already state law, cities and traffic camera companies have been telling people otherwise. Traffic camera companies have been threating legal and financial action against thousands of Tennessee citizens for years. In fact, to this very day, the Mayor of McKenzie, Tennessee takes to the local paper and regularly tells people that if they don’t pay the tickets, then the city will take them to court and the court will report the debt on their credit report. Well, it would be illegal for the city of McKenzie to do that, so yet again, more coercion and empty threats. It’s important to know that not one of those threats are actually credible. Therefore, I’m sure you can see why I wanted to ensure that the false threats are stopped by forcing these citations to have that disclaimer on them.
When you introduce a bill in the State of Tennessee, state analysts will look over the bill to determine the costs of implementing such legislation. Their report is what is referred to as a “fiscal note.” These analysts get their information from state departments like the Department of Health, Education, Transportation and so on.
Unfortunately, it has become a standard practice to find creative (fake) ways to put huge fiscal notes on legislative proposals that the establishment finds unsatisfactory. By putting a huge fiscal note on these bills, they typically die a quick and quiet death. It’s sometimes later discovered that the fiscal impact was totally non-existent or way off calculation. I tell you all this to teach you a very important lesson that will help to explain what happened next.
My legislation requiring that all camera citations inform people of the current state law had a massive fiscal note that said cities would lose tens of thousands of dollars in revenue if this disclaimer was printed on them. By putting this fiscal note on my legislation, they effectively admitted that the only way they make so much money is by coercion and lies, and if people were informed of the existing state law, then cities would lose tens of thousands of dollars.
I found that to be quite disturbing. But, what’s more interesting is who put the fiscal note on the legislation in the first place. The fiscal review analysts didn’t use state data to come to that figure. They used data from a lobbying group that lobbied to legalize cameras in the first place years ago. A lobbying group that gets paid countless dollars to keep cameras up and operating. So, we’re expected to believe that the same lobbyists that first got cameras put up in the state of Tennessee provided honest data regarding the fiscal implications of legislation that will cost their clients millions of dollars in revenue? Not likely. Regardless, I was able to get the bill passed.
NEW BREAKING OF LAW
Session has only been out for a few short weeks, and cities and traffic camera companies are already breaking state law again. Instead of printing the disclaimer as state law now requires, Union City in Northwest Tennessee decided to change the disclaimer to say that
PAYMENT IS REQUIRED BY LAW. NON-PAYMENT OF THIS VIOLATION CANNOT HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON YOUR DRIVERS LICENSE, CAR INSURANCE RATES, OR CREDIT REPORT.
But that’s yet another lie. How can payment of a citation be required by law when you were never found guilty of anything? Did you go to court? Did you face your accuser? Did you sign a ticket promising to appear in court if you chose not to pay the fine and admit guilt? Nope. You didn’t. So how can they accuse you of being guilty and legally responsible to pay a fine? They can’t. So, yet again, we see traffic camera companies and cities lying to people and breaking state law by changing the language of the required disclaimer. This type of coercive behavior is exactly why there is so little trust in the American political system today, and those that practice it should be ashamed.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET ONE?
Throw it in the trash. Personally, I prefer to burn mine. I’m often told by traffic camera proponents that if people would just follow the law, then they wouldn’t have to worry about getting a traffic camera ticket. Ah, so the people have to follow the law, but the government, as well as the private companies protected by it, can readily violate the law? I don’t think so.