A new state law regulating traffic enforcement cameras apparently does not unconstitutionally impair current contracts with camera operators, even though it may reduce their revenue, according to Attorney General Bob Cooper.
Two state legislators said a question had been raised because some contracts were based on “an understanding that a minimum number of traffic citations would be based on right-turn-on-red violations, according to the opinion made public today.
The opinion cautions that no specific contract was provided for evaluation with the questions posed by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, sponsors of the new law now known as Public Chapter 425.
But as a general proposition, the opinion says the new law “should withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
Both the state and federal constitutions prohibit enactment of laws that impair existing contracts and “several local governments” have executed contracts with vendors to install and maintain traffic camera systems.
Among new restrictions imposed by the new law is a ban on issuing tickets for right turns on red lights unless the intersection is clearly marked with a “no turn on red” sign.
The Cooper opinion says that courts have allow laws that impact existing contracts if the law is “remedial in nature” and/or involves exercise of a state’s police power.
“The enactment of Public Chapter 425 is both remedial in nature and a legitimate exercise of Tennessee’s police power,” the opinion says. “Initially, Chapter 425 does not, by its terms, change the rights and responsibilities of the vendors with respect to any contract.”
“…Chapter 425 only changes the circumstances under which valid traffic citations may be sustained upon evidence obtained from unmanned traffic enforcement cameras and thus, as a remedial act, should withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“In any event, while Chapter 425 might arguably diminish the income received under a revenue-sharing agreement by reducing the number of traffic citations issued, any expected revenue stream was always necessarily contingent on the citizens of the state violating the law in certain numbers. That contingency tends to suggest that the parties have no ‘vested right’ in a particular level of revenue.
“Finally, notwithstanding the remedial nature of Chapter 425, the existence of pervasive state regulation on the subject of the operation of motor vehicles would likewise suggest that the venders entered their contracts knowing that regulatory change was foreseeable.
“Traffic enforcement is, in general, a matter within the police power.
“Chapter 425 does not favor one vendor over another, nor does it favor local governments at the expense of the vendors (since both parties might lose income under a revenue-sharing agreement).
“Rather, Chapter 425 would appear to favor motorists who are charged with misconduct. It enhances their ability to confront a live witness, instead of photographic evidence, at any contested hearing on the matter.
“Moreover, by restricting the use of unmanned traffic enforcement cameras to intersections that are ‘clearly marked’ by a ‘no turn on red’ sign, Chapter 425 provides motorists better notice of when their conduct is likely to result in sanction.
“These considerations – each of which relates to notions of fairness in the administration of law – amount to ‘significant and legitimate state interests’.”