Texas lawmakers send bill to governor that would eventually outlaw red-light cameras

Texas Tribune News

A red-light camera at the intersection of Interstate 35 and 11th Street near downtown Austin.
A red-light camera at the intersection of Interstate 35 and 11th Street near downtown Austin.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

The Republican-led push to rid Texas intersections of red-light cameras moved one step closer to becoming law after the state Senate signed off on a measure with that aim Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

House Bill 1631 cleared the chamber on a 23-8 vote after several back-and-forths among senators about studies that both support and challenge the efficacy of the devices when it comes to promoting safer streets. The Senate left in place a key provision to allow local governments to continue operating cameras until they finish out any contracts in effect as of May 7.

“Red-light cameras violate the right to due process guaranteed under Article 1 of the Texas Constitution by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation when in fact that may not have been the case,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who is sponsoring the legislation originally offered by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Many city officials and local law enforcement officials oppose the legislation, arguing that cameras reduce deadly accidents and bring in revenue for trauma care centers and local governments. Gesturing toward a binder with 25 studies that suggest the opposite, Hall fended off questions from fellow senators who asked about the potential loss of revenue, particularly the dollars that go to trauma care centers, from fines on drivers who run red lights.

In the 2017 fiscal year, $18.3 million from red-light camera fines went to the state’s trauma care. The bill’s fiscal note indicates banning cameras would cut $28 million in funding for trauma centers over the next two years. But Hall told his colleagues that the issue had been resolved with the chamber’s budget writers, who found a way to make up the difference through another revenue stream.