A state lawmaker whose vehicle was shown speeding by a traffic camera in upper East Tennessee co-sponsored a bill to take that camera down this year, reports The City Paper. Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) was cited for driving 60 miles an hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone while driving in Bluff City in 2010, just weeks before voters elected him to a third election. The photo-enforced traffic cameras did not show images of the driver, and Lundberg said an employee of his public relations firm was driving the company vehicle at the time.
The traffic camera speeding ticket “has absolutely zero effect” on his decision to sponsor the bill, Lundberg told The City Paper. “In fact, until you said that, I completely forgot about that.”
Lundberg was cited after his 1998 Ford F15 was pictured driving 15-miles over the speed limit just after lunchtime on Oct. 21, 2010. The $90 fine was paid. Because the traffic camera images do not include a photo of the driver, the ticket is considered a non-moving infraction.
The stretch of road leading up to the photo-enforced intersection had been a point of controversy a month before Lundberg’s company vehicle sped through the intersection. Local city officials were figuring out when and whether to change speed limits leading up to the site in reaction to a new ban freshly approved by lawmakers that spring to space out speed reductions and photo-enforced cameras.
The cameras are still a sore spot to this day, said Lundberg. He said he receives constant complaints that the traffic cameras are a deterrent for travelers wanting to visit the Bristol Motor Speedway in his district. He said he is also worried about traffic crashes at the site of the cameras.
— Note: The bill, HB314, did not pass.
Tennessee state Rep. Timothy Hill remains committed to his legislation banning Bluff City’s speed enforcement cameras despite criticism from the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, reports Hank Hayes. “I’m disappointed with the name calling,” Hill, R-Blountville, said when asked for a response to that criticism occurring at a board meeting Thursday night. “That doesn’t advance any discussion. … I’m surprised that if the city is that concerned with my legislation — I figured they would be — I’m surprised they have not reached out to me at this point. I’ve never been invited to a BMA meeting. I have yet to have one of their aldermen reach out to me in any form or fashion to have a discussion on this.”
Bluff City aldermen warned that losing revenue from those speed cameras will hurt funding for various projects, including a Sullivan County-supported library in town.
The speed cameras, located on Highway 11-E are not in Bluff City’s downtown area and also catch motorists moving through business areas of the Piney Flats community.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Rep. Jon Lundberg say they didn’t realize the new state law on traffic cameras would immediately impact the speed ticket cameras in Bluff City, reports the Bristol Herald Courier. Bluff City officials didn’t either, until a ticketed motorist pointed out an August attorney general’s opinion on the new law. (Previous post HERE.)
A provision of the new law says no speed cameras are permitted within a mile of a speed limit reduction of 10 mph or more. The two legislators and the Bluff City officials thought a state constitutional provision against impairment of existing contracts, however, would mean the provision wouldn’t apply to existing cameras covered by an existing contract. The AG opinion says, basically, that it does – there are legal exceptions to the broad rule of non-impairment of contracts and the meant the new law’s provisions fall within those exceptions. (AG Bob) Cooper’s opinion – and a protest from Jim Bollinger – prompted the city to temporarily shut down one of its two traffic cameras amid concerns the device might have illegally been issuing tickets to hundreds of drivers for the past 2½ months.
“They’ve got one hell of a mess going on there in Bluff City,” Bollinger said as he looked back on what’s happened since he Googled “Chapter 425.”
City officials knew they’d either have to move their speed camera or extend the city’s 45-mph-zone to comply with this last regulation (the one-mile ban). But they also thought they’d have plenty of time to take those steps because of a little known clause in the Tennessee constitution.
“We can’t break contracts by legislation,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican who represents Bluff City in the state Senate, said as he explained what the constitution’s contract clause entails. “We were told in committee that we can’t break or interfere with an existing contract through legislation.”
Because the new rules contained in Public Chapter 425 could somehow impact the contract a city has with its camera system operator, Ramsey said, many state legislators including himself believed the new rules would not apply to individual cities until their contracts expired – including Bluff City.
Under this interpretation, Bluff City would not have to take any action to comply with the law until Jan. 1, 2025, the expiration date for its contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that manages the system and supplied the cameras.
“We can’t change an existing contract,” said state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who shares Ramsey’s interpretation of the constitution’s contract clause. “We don’t have that authority.”
But while Lundberg agreed with Ramsey about the contract clause, he also questioned whether making Bluff City extend its 45-mph-zone or move its speed camera might also interfere with the camera-company contract.
….”I was told that we were grandfathered in,” Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said Wednesday when asked why she shut the camera down amid questions about its legality. “I’m not going to take a chance on that. The city wants to do what is right.”
Ramsey praised Dulaney’s suspension of the southbound camera and subsequent declaration that any citations issued since July 1 were “under review” during a Friday afternoon interview. He also said Cooper’s opinion has caused some confusion across the state.
The House and Senate Saturday both approved and sent to the governor legislation that will overhaul the state’s law on traffic cameras.
The bill, SB1684, cleared the Senate unanimously and passed the House 83-3. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. The governor has voiced no position on the measure, but legislators say he is expected to sign it.
The bill won’t impact traffic cameras already in operation, but will apply to them when contracts for their operation are renewed, according to sponsors Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
“It doesn’t do all the things that a lot people wanted, but it does do a lot of things that everybody can agree on,” said Dean.
Multiple bills dealing with traffic cameras were proposed this year, ranging from measures that would flatly ban them to proposals that all revenue collected be turned over to education.
Key provisions of the bill that passed, the result of hours of debate in the House and Senate Transportation committees, include:
-A requirement that a traffic study be conducted before a camera is put in place and that the study show it is needed on a public safety basis.
-Prohibiting tickets for turning right on red unless the intersection is clearly posted with a sign stating right turns on red are banned.
-It limits tickets fines to a flat $50 maximum if paid on time with no added handling fees or court costs.
-No speed enforcement cameras can be put up within a mile of a decrease in the speed limit of 10 mph or more.