Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Legislature 2002

Traffic cam supporter
does sharp turnabout

Rep. Joe Souki now proposes
radical changes to the photo
enforcement program

By Crystal Kua

The House Transportation Committee voted today to pass a bill that would make changes in the state's controversial traffic camera program.

The bill would repeal the law that authorized the traffic cameras and replace it with a modified version that includes changes such as paying the vendor a flat fee instead of paying on a per-ticket basis.

All three Republicans on the committee voted against the measure, saying the law should be repealed outright because the controversy over the experimental traffic camera project won't be resolved with further modifications.

"Whatever this program is supposed to demonstrate, it isn't doing a very good job of it," said Rep. Jim Rath (R, North Kona).

But Democrats on the committee said the project is needed for traffic safety.

Committee Vice Chairman Willie Espero said the changes to the law address the concerns of the public.

"We are looking at all the areas people are asking us to look at," Espero said. "We should definitely keep this issue alive."

The bill, which now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, was introduced by House Transportation Chairman Joe Souki.

Souki (D, Wailuku), a key supporter of the program, said he is willing to scrap the current law in hopes of keeping the overall program alive.

The camera vans, which have been parked along state highways on Oahu, photographing speeding cars, have been the more controversial of the two camera projects. The cameras that target red light runners are not yet operating.

Under Souki's proposal the law would change by:

>> Requiring that a vendor be paid a flat fee instead of a portion of each ticket.

>> Requiring that a photograph identify not only the car but the driver.

>> Prohibiting insurance companies from using the speeding citations to set or increase premiums.

Souki said he expects the insurance companies will object to that part of the measure.

The old law would be repealed and the contract canceled upon the effective date of the bill, and the new law would be in place July 1.

Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday the insurance question is one of the issues that the Legislature has to deal with and he thinks the prevailing sentiment is that a ticket should not count against a driver's insurance policy.

Cayetano stood by the program and sees more lawmakers trying to find a way to save it.

"I think there are many legislators now, a growing number, who say the system is flawed but let's see if we can fix it up. That's the position everybody should take because this technology is working. It is making a difference in the way people drive," the governor said.

Republicans said it would be difficult to photograph drivers under certain conditions, especially at night.

Jack Weaver, implementation manager with Poltech International, the company providing the cameras, said there are ways to photograph the drivers but the technology would have to overcome obstacles, such as glare on the windshield, lowered visors and darkness.

"Nothing's impossible," he said. "But it is very difficult."

Republicans also say the bill does not address the problem of the registered owner of the vehicle getting the ticket and having to prove he or she wasn't driving the vehicle.

Rath said the registered owner would still be guilty until proven innocent.

State Transportation Chairman Brian Minaai said state attorneys were reviewing Souki's proposal.

"If these changes are to improve the program, to achieve its original objectives and to continue the demonstration program, we would fully support it," Minaai said. "But we haven't gone through the details yet."

Minaai said that since changes were made -- including keeping the vans away from places perceived as speed traps and sending the vans to specific areas outside of Honolulu where speeding is a problem -- he has received more positive reaction. "We're getting more e-mail and letters in support of it," he said.

Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae, Maili, Makaha), who authored a bill in the Senate that calls for an outright repeal, said she would see what Souki's bill has to offer but that it is critical that any changes being proposed give the Legislature and the public enough time to provide feedback.

The Senate was expected to vote today on two resolutions calling for a moratorium on the program and requesting the Department of Transportation to make changes to the program.

The committee approved today a measure that would set the maximum speed on state highways at 65 mph.

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