AUSTIN — A bill to outlaw red-light cameras in Texas passed its final hurdle Friday.
The Texas Senate approved House Bill 1631 by a vote of 23-8. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.
“Red-light cameras violate the right to due process,” bill sponsor Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said, “by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation.”
The bill would prohibit cities from operating photographic traffic camera systems that catch citizens speeding or running red lights and issue them fines. A handful of Texas cities, including Arlington and Richardson, have quit using the devices, or, like DeSoto, decided against installing them.
But several others, including Dallas, Irving, Garland and Plano, continue to champion the cameras, which they say improve public safety.
In Denton, crews installed the first red-light cameras in 2006, the year after the city entered into its first contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, part of Australia-based Redflex Holdings. Denton’s current contract with Redflex expires July 20.
The Senate did leave a provision that city governments can continue operating cameras through the end of their contracts as of May 7.
The cameras also bring in significant sums in fines every year. Dallas, for example, netted almost $5.8 million from their $75-a-pop fines in 2018. Half this went to the city and half to the state’s hospital trauma centers. Lawmakers have promised to make up the funds these trauma centers would lose if the bill is signed into law.
Debate lasted less than an hour Friday.
A handful of Democrats expressed concerns that outlawing the cameras would worsen public safety. Supporters point to two studies that say deadly “angle” or T-bone crashes decrease when red-light cameras are in place. But these same studies contain caveats that the presence of red-light cameras could result in more rear-end collisions.
Rep. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said a red-light camera near the local airport has forced him to slow down and drive more carefully.
“The red-light camera installation has totally caused me to, as I come to the intersection, slow down and stop,” he said. “That’s the impact on most motorists.”
But Hall dismissed that as anecdotal evidence.
Ahead of the vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick welcomed the bill’s House author to the chamber.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland, D-Bedford, a libertarian who believes in limited government and has made it a personal mission to kill other people’s legislation, has never been the primary author on a bill that has passed into law.
“Our citizens have been waiting a long time to get rid of red-light cameras,” Patrick said from the dais. “And Rep. Stickland has been waiting a long time to pass a bill.”
After the debate, Hall thanked Stickland for his “tenacity.”
“I am truly honored to be the torch bearer on this fight,” Hall said. “It was a team effort. ... The citizens will thank you.”
One Republican, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, and seven Democrats voted against the bill: Carol Alvarado of Houston, Nathan Johnson of Dallas, José Menéndez of San Antonio, Boris Miles of Houston, Beverly Powell of Burleson, Kirk Watson of Austin and Rodríguez.