Arizona Senate votes to kill bill banning photo radar

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Senate on Monday voted against legislation that would have banned the use of photo radar and red light cameras statewide, blocking a proposal that had support from many libertarian-leaning Republicans who believe electronic enforcement is government overreach.

Four Republicans joined all Senate Democrats present in the 13-15 vote to kill Senate Bill 1167, despite efforts by the Republican sponsor to get them to change their minds.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, made an impassioned plea to get the Republicans who opposed her measure to change their votes. She called the cameras dangerous, an invasion of privacy and a money-making ploy by cities and towns.

"Here this is very, very easy to see that photo radar, both red light cameras and speed cameras, are unconstitutional," Ward said. "The constituents in your area do not like these unconstitutional cameras, they do not like the risk that they pose."

But Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said the cameras save lives and urged members to vote for the bill. Contreras' sister was killed in accident in 1990, and he urged members to remember that the vote they were making could save a life.

In an interview after the vote, Contreras said the death of his 18-year-old sister in a crash where he was badly hurt could not have been prevented by the cameras. But he said he supports the cameras because they could prevent another family from having to go through what his did.

"If this could have saved my sister's life I wish someone would have passed it back then," Contreras said. "It's not government overreach when your family member can be saved. It's about public safety, it's about saving a life.

Ward's bill was the most sweeping of three bills proposed in the Legislature targeting photo radar in what has become an annual effort to eliminate electronic ticketing.

Cities and towns have managed to beat back the proposals in recent years.

The other two bills targeting photo radar started in the House. House Bill 2564 by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, failed to get out of committee last week, meaning it is likely dead for the session. That bill would require a sworn officer to review tickets before they are issued instead of a contractor. The other, House Bill 2221 by Rep. J.D. Mensard, R-Chandler, prevents license suspensions because of a missed photo radar court date. It passed the full House last week.

Photo enforcement has been a contentions issued in Arizona for years. A two-year state-run highway photo enforcement program championed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano ended when Gov. Jan Brewer allowed the contract to expire in 2010. Voters in Sierra Vista banned its use in November by a wide margin, and some cities have stopped using it in recent years amid a public outcry.