ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Tuesday approved a five-year pilot program allowing speed radar cameras in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
The measure now moves to the House of Delegates — which backed a similar bill last year — with less than a week until the end of the legislative session.
But Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. poses a significant hurdle – he vetoed a bill in 2003 to allow any Maryland locality to install speed cameras, saying he had privacy concerns about it. He has said he is not inclined to approve this year’s version.
The bill passed the Senate 27 to 16, with legislators debating the proposal’s merits and the social impact of allowing radar cameras to nab speeders in the two counties.
“It’s just another step toward big government watching you everywhere you are,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick. “This is the type of Big Brother step that we do not want to take in the state of Maryland. I don’t know where the cameras are coming next, but it scares me to think where they want to put these cameras (to) impose on our personal freedoms.”
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were chosen because the cameras could help alleviate the well-documented problems with pedestrian accidents and speeders there.
Others denounced the bill as a revenue-raising ploy for local governments in the two counties at the expense of drivers from all parts of the state.
“We’re giving up freedom here,” said Sen. Edward Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s. “These cameras malfunction. So as we said last year, this bill wasn’t ready for prime time. … It’s still not ready for prime time.”
The bill would allow cameras to target speeders only in residential and school zones where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.
Lawmakers did change the bill to allow more tolerance of excess speed, increasing amnesty from fines from 5 to 10 miles per hour over the posted speed in monitored zones, said its sponsor, Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery.
But Mooney criticized that provision, saying the bill is inconsistent with established speed limits.
In explaining his veto for similar legislation last year, Ehrlich wrote the 10 mph “grace speed” sends the wrong signal — that speeding within that range, especially in school zones, should be ignored.
Delegate William Bronrott, D-Montgomery, is the sponsor of an identical House measure that is stuck in the Rules Committee.
He doesn’t know why the measure stalled, but he praised the Senate for approving the measure and vowed to fight for the bill in the House.
There is still enough time to move the measure through the House before the end of the legislative session Monday, Bronrott added.
Many places in Maryland use red-light cameras, but some are now removing them because they no longer produce enough revenue to keep them running.
Proponents of the technology say increasing safety is the objective of the radar devices, not raising funds.
Washington, D.C., is the only East Coast jurisdiction to use speed cameras.
Forehand said she hopes a compromise with the governor can be reached and speculated that the short time left in session could impede the proposal.
“The governor has said, time and time again in public that his No. 1 priority in transportation is safety and this bill really addresses that.”