Legislative Update: No Ban On Stoplight Cameras

If you’re one of the Louisiana motorists furious about getting a traffic ticket in the mail and you’re looking for some relief from the new stoplight cameras clicking away and cashing in for operators and local governments alike, we’ve got some bad news.

No relief is coming for you. Big Brother will still be watching.

HB 160, authored by Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-Algiers), would have put a statewide ban on traffic cameras like the ones used in Orleans, East Baton Rouge and Lafayette Parishes. But Arnold’s bill died in the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee yesterday, failing on a 10-6 vote.

“It is no longer if we get rid of these cameras, it is a matter of when,” Arnold said. “We should do it sooner rather than later so we are not taking money out of our constituents’ pockets. … There are other alternatives that should be used first, but they don’t generate revenues.”

He didn’t get a lot of support for that stance, and as such the cameras will stick around for another year.

One decent point in opposition to the bill was made by Rep. Jack Montoucet (D-Scott): “Here we go again with Big Brother imposing something on the local governments. If local officials are elected and they decide to do this, then they are answerable to their people.”

Does that mean the cameras represent Little Brother watching us? Either way, Montoucet probably does have some validity in calling this a local issue rather than a state issue.

Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden said the camera program “saves lives,” and then denied they’re in place as a moneymaker for the city-parish despite raising $3.1 million from February 2008 through December 2009. Some 113,000 tickets were generated in East Baton Rouge Parish last year, with 64,000 thrown out by the camera vendors, largely because they came as a result of funeral processions, and the police threw out another 13,000 citations – leaving a final tally of 34,000 tickets issued in Baton Rouge last year.

“Does that sound like we are in it for the money?” Holden asked, after claiming that traffic accidents have fallen by 17 percent since the institution of the program.

Arnold mentioned that the camera program was put to a vote in Sulphur, where it lost 86-14. Public support for cameras statewide is soft where it exists at all.

In the meantime, those who continue to be outraged at the idea of Big (or Little) Brother taking snapshots of license plates can protest by visiting SprayYourPlate.com, a site for the manufacturer of a spray-on gloss which causes the overexposure of the cameras’ photos when hard flash is used. It’s a bit of civil disobedience we like – if for no other reason than that the next step will be for some petty tyrant in the state legislature to offer a bill to outlaw photoblocker sprays and thus provide the voters with a good education by showing himself completely unworthy of public office.

Jindal Asks Leges, Judiciary To Scrap Raises

Yesterday, Gov. Bobby Jindal asked for legislation that would extend the salary freezes in the executive branch to employees in the legislature and the state’s judiciary. Executive branch salary freezes have saved the state some $77 million, and employees of the House of Representatives are already on notice that they’ll be getting a freeze. In the Senate, no official determination has been made yet.

It’s the judiciary where a real impact might be felt…

Judges and other employees of the state courts are the only section of Louisiana government slated for pay increases next year. By law, state judges will get pay raises from 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent on July 1, the fifth year in a row of raises. Legislation could freeze those salaries.

This year, pay raises added $1.3 million to the budget of the appeals courts and $1.6 million for the district courts.

Adley Rips Jindal On Transparency

At the Baton Rouge Press Club yesterday, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) said Louisiana’s executive branch is “dead last” in America in terms of the records it makes available to the public while the legislative branch ranks first thanks to previous ethics reform legislation.

Adley authored SB 593, a bill which would fix the problem by knocking a lot of the executive privilege out of the governor’s records.

“Transparency for the executive branch of government is critical. It is the fabric that holds our government accountable,” he said. “What is it that creates a breeding ground for corruption? Secrecy.”

Jindal, as one might expect, disagrees.

“They opened up more records in the Governor’s Office than have ever been opened before,” he said of changes he has championed in the last two years.

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