JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia's aspirations to put more eyes in the sky to help catch traffic violators at red lights could soon come to an early end.
The Missouri Senate approved an amendment Monday to an omnibus transportation bill that would ban the use of red light cameras throughout the state. The bill would also place a complete ban on texting while driving for Missourians of all ages, reduce the number of license plates issued to drivers by the state to one, limit the amount of money a city can collect from fees on traffic violations, and end the requirement for drivers to have their cars inspected every two years.
The amendment was passed 23-8 in a roll call vote. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was absent from the vote. Also not present were Sens. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Gary Nodler, R-Springfield, who have had red light cameras in their districts.
Schaefer said if he would have been present for the vote, he would have supported the ban. He said there is "room for manipulation" by municipalities, who can employ tactics such as shortening the duration of yellow lights to increase the rate of violators captured on camera. But, Schaefer said, he "doesn't have any reason" for believing Columbia is taking part in such manipulation.
Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, was the only senator to speak in opposition to the bill before the vote. She said red light cameras, which are used in her district, helps local governments raise revenue and can help to cut back on accidents caused by drivers who run red lights.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, who proposed the amendment, said he agreed that the cameras help cities raise revenue, but said the cameras have raised "constitutional questions" where they have been installed.
The city of Columbia currently has five red light cameras in operation. The city installed two cameras last year at the intersections of Broadway and Providence Road and Stadium Boulevard and Worley Street, which became operational in August. It has since added a camera to the intersection of Stadium and Providence Road, and two cameras at the intersection of Stadium and Forum boulevards.
The Senate version of the transportation bill was to a financial accountability committee, where it would have to be approved before a final vote in the Senate.
Red light cameras have caused controversy in some Missouri cites. Last year, a federal court ruled against the recipent of a traffic ticket as the result of a red light camera in the city of Arnold, rejecting cliams that the cameras violate drivers' rights. But in another case, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the city of Springfield in March in a case involving a ticket issued from evidence gathered by a red light camera in the city, and the city has since suspended its use of the cameras.