Red light cameras: Regulate or ban them?

State lawmakers are debating a series of bills that would restrict or even ban automated traffic cameras like this red light camera in Columbia.

Missouri residents and lawmakers agreed Monday traffic cameras need some kind of regulation but differed on how tight restrictions need to be.

A total of seven different bills dealing with automated traffic enforcement systems like red light cameras and speed cameras dominated the discussion at Monday evening's House Crime Prevention committee hearing. All seven of them would place some kind of restriction on the cameras, with two of the measures banning them outright.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed on the need for limitations. Wentzville Republican Bryan Spencer, who sponsored one of the measures banning such cameras, accused cities of letting police outsource traffic enforcement to out-of-state companies. St. Louis Democrat Clem Smith compared the existing regulatory environment on traffic cameras to the anarchic world of the "Mad Max" film trilogy.

Not every lawmaker felt the need to ban them, however. Smith proposed creating a statewide speed camera registry and requiring all cities to abide by rules set by MoDOT. Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant, presented a trio of bills that would require a full-frontal photograph of the driver, require signage indicating the presence of a camera and direct 10 percent of any fine revenue to driver education programs at local school districts. The committee's chair, St. Clair Republican Dave Hinson, put forth a proposal that would require any jurisdiction using traffic cameras to abide by a set of statewide regulations developed in 2011. Hinson's bill would also prevent any conviction based solely on such cameras from costing points on a driver's license and cap any fines at $135. Hinson said he has seen attempts to ban such cameras fail and he thinks tighter regulations have a more realistic chance of passing. He told the committee he felt the question of whether to get rid of cameras entirely should be left up to city councils.

Hinson's bill satisfied Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, who told KRCG 13 he felt some of the other proposals went too far. Roorda said Missouri's cities currently have no legal framework to work within when deciding whether and how to implement red light cameras, speed cameras and the like. He said this has driving much of the recent litigation surrounding such systems.

Columbia residents similarly agreed on the need for regulation but differed on how much is needed. Ross Heller told KRCG 13 he thinks the cameras need to be eliminated, calling them a revenue-generating measure rather than a safety feature. Margy Chrestman said she thought the cameras were a good idea but needed tighter restrictions.

Hinson's committee did not vote on any of the measures discussed Monday night.