Monday, January 26, 2004


Red-light cameras
will face opposition


State Sen. Cal Kawamoto and the state Transportation Department said they support installing cameras at intersections to catch motorists running red lights.

CAMERAS aimed at catching speeding motorists on Oahu were abandoned shortly after they were installed two years ago, but the Lingle administration and state Senate Transportation Chairman Cal Kawamoto are interested in reviving them to catch motorists running red lights at intersections. Red-light cameras have been shown to be effective on the mainland, but the state should be prepared for legal challenges.

The state had planned to install red-light cameras at 30 intersections as part of an experiment that began with the cameras that photographed speeders. Motorists were furious, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state for violating privacy rights by turning over Social Security numbers serving as driver's license numbers to the private company operating the cameras. Then-Gov. Ben Cayetano finally put lens caps on the whole operation.

Meanwhile, the number of communities using red-light cameras has grown to more than 90 nationwide, and the controversy continues. While the South Carolina legislature is considering a bill to allow the cameras, the Chapel Hill, N.C., town council is on the verge of ending its contract with Affiliated Computer Services, the New York company that operated the cameras on Oahu. Nearly two-thirds of the offenders had been let off the hook because the pictures were too blurry.

In San Francisco, attorneys for 230 motorists cited for running red lights are asking that their tickets be dismissed because the cameras are unreliable and the photos inadmissible in court. San Francisco has used the intersection cameras since 1996, citing 25,000 motorists for running red lights. As in Chapel Hill, citations are dismissed if the driver cannot be identified.

Part of the problem with the Hawaii experiment two years ago was that it cited the registered owner of the offending car, not the driver. Defense attorneys maintained that the judge should not have been allowed to assume that the owner was driving the offending vehicle.

Another complaint was that the company was paid for each ticket, an incentive for catching speeders, rather than a fixed amount for operating the program. State officials had ignored a ruling in San Diego that such an incentive was illegal.

Everyone seems to agree that intersection cameras are effective. In San Francisco, the number of accidents attributed to motorists running red lights fell from 955 in 1996 to 677 in 2002. Other studies have shown a decline in accidents in other communities with red-light cameras. The question is whether they are worth the aggravation.


Akaka bill is still needed
for Hawaiian recognition


Congress has approved an expenditure of $100,000 to set up an office of Hawaiian relations in the Interior Department.

PROPONENTS of federal recognition of native Hawaiians at the same level as Indian tribes are hailing a provision tucked inside a massive appropriations bill that will set up an Office of Native Hawaiian Relations in the Interior Department. The provision is part of the Hawaiian recognition bill sponsored by Senator Akaka, but it is hardly an indication that the Akaka bill's passage will follow. Critics will say that it merely puts the cart before the horse in the midst of a crowded thruway.

Because of the circumstances of the legislation, it is not likely to be considered seriously in lawsuits challenging federal programs that assist Hawaiians and the Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiians-only admission policy. Enactment of the Akaka bill itself is essential to fight back both lawsuits.

The bill appropriating $820 billion to finance most of the federal government includes $100,000 for a new Hawaiian relations office. Akaka says the office's mission is to "effectuate and implement the special legal relationship between native Hawaiians and the U.S., continue the process of reconciliation and fully integrate the principle and practice of meaningful, regular and appropriate consultation with native Hawaiians."

Akaka gives due credit to Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Senator Inouye, a ranking Democrat on the committee, for including the provision in the appropriations bill. Stevens is co-sponsor of the Hawaiian recognition measure, known in some quarters as the Akaka-Stevens bill.

Democrats complained that Senate leaders ignored sentiments expressed in Congress on many issues included in the spending bill, including a school voucher program for about 2,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia that fell short of Senate approval on its own. Stevens responded that it was hardly the first time that measures had been stripped from final bills to win approval. "All in all," he said, "this bill is a good consensus."



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