AUSTIN — A popular bill to get rid of red-light cameras in Dallas and dozens of other cities, including Denton, has hit the skids.
State Rep. Terry Canales, the Edinburg Democrat who chairs the Texas House Committee on Transportation, said Monday that he’s put the brakes on the effort because of concerns that outlawing traffic cameras could result in an uptick in deadly crashes. Canales’ decision means the legislation is effectively dead unless he changes his mind.
“Passing the bill out without further tailoring would be tantamount to me voting something out and later having blood on my own hands,” Canales told The Dallas Morning News.
The bill, authored by Bedford Rep. Jonathan Stickland, would prohibit cities from operating “a photographic traffic signal system” or issuing civil or criminal fines based on a “recorded image,” and repeal state laws that allow for these systems.
Crews installed the first red-light cameras in Denton 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.
“Following the Legislature on both sides of the aisle this session, it looked as if it would get passed this session, so I was shocked to hear this,” said Denton City Council member Keely Briggs, who is opposed to the red-light cameras.
She said she still expects the city’s contract to come back for review, “and we will discuss as a full council and make a decision.”
Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon said it ultimately will be the council’s decision whether or not to renew the contract with Redflex, but added that the public can expect his department to gain “voluntary compliance to traffic law by utilizing education, enforcement and engineering where appropriate.
“We will continue working with other city departments to do everything we can, such as extending the yellow-to-red cycle that we did on a pilot [program] last year,” he said. “It is important to note that we will continue to focus on traffic safety to hopefully prevent families from suffering the loss of a loved one, because one life lost is one too many.”
Outlawing traffic cameras is popular with voters, and, this year, also top politicians. Gov. Greg Abbott supports it, and, by February, Stickland’s bill had more than 100 House members signed on, far more than it needs to pass the House. Canales was one of them.
But Canales changed his mind about supporting the bill, he said, after hearing from law enforcement officers who support traffic cameras. They pointed to studies that show deadly “angle” or T-bone crashes decrease when these cameras are in place — studies that also include the caveat that the presence of red-light cameras could result in more rear-end collisions.
Last week, Stickland grabbed headlines when another of his bills was declared dead after a gun rights activist showed up at the home of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to pressure him for his support. Bonnen’s home, where his wife and children were at the time, was placed under surveillance. Stickland issued a statement criticizing such behavior soon after the news broke Friday.
Canales said this incident did not affect his decision to hold up the red-light camera bill: “At this point, it’s not anything related to the apology or his behavior that’s holding his bill. I am. I am holding the bill because I’ve got policy concerns.”
He then acknowledged that a vote on the bill was delayed because of the behavior of Stickland’s supporters.
“If a member is a catalyst of putting another member in danger, that behavior is not going to be rewarded,” Canales told The News. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on. It doesn’t matter what your legislation pertains to. The House, irrespective of party lines, is a family, and we will respect each other or you won’t be respected.”
Stickland declined an interview for this report, saying only that he’s “still optimistic” he can resurrect his legislation. State Sen. Bob Hall, who had put his own red-light camera bill on hold to let the House bill pass, said he will work to advance legislation “right away” now that Stickland’s appears to be dead.
“We’ll move ours now,” Hall, R-Edgewood, said Tuesday. “We’ll just have to see what happens when it gets to the House.”