UPDATED: Partial red light camera ban passes House, but some call it ‘piecemeal’
Bill allows home rule communities to continue using the devices
Editor's Note: The story has been updated with clarification on the number of municipalities that would be impacted by the legislation.
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House advanced a partial ban of red light cameras in the state Wednesday with strong bipartisan support, but some said the bill was a “piecemeal” approach because it does not apply in several communities.
Red light cameras are devices some municipalities install at intersections to detect drivers running through red lights or turning without coming to a full stop. Those who are caught violating traffic laws on camera are sent citations by the municipality where the offense occurred.
House Bill 322, sponsored by Barrington Hills Republican Rep. David McSweeney, would prohibit non-home rule units of government from enacting or enforcing red light camera ordinances starting Jan. 1, 2021.
Home rule is a status that state law confers to any municipality with more than 25,000 residents or other municipalities that choose to adopt it by referendum. Those municipalities have greater authority to control their own local affairs.
According to the Illinois Municipal League, 217 of Illinois’ 1,298 incorporated municipalities have home rule powers.
Per state law, however, red light cameras are currently only allowed in municipalities within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties, so opponents of the bill said only 20 municipalities that currently have red light cameras would be affected.
McSweeney’s bill advanced amid growing opposition to the red light camera industry as Safespeed LLC, one of the state’s main companies that supply the machines, has been the subject of ongoing federal investigative activity.
McSweeney said the measure was similar to one he passed in the House in 2015. He alleged that bill was killed in the Senate at the time by now former-Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who recently pleaded guilty to bribery and tax fraud charges and admitted in court that he viewed himself as a “protector” of red light cameras.
The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times each reported that during a Tuesday, Jan. 28, hearing in which Sandoval pleaded guilty, he told a judge, “I used my office as state senator to help SafeSpeed — er, company A ... (and) be its protector in the Illinois Senate and influence other officials to roll out the red light camera program in Illinois.”
McSweeney said his bill was about fighting corruption and a program that targets low-income Illinoisans.
“I am fighting hard to end the corrupt Illinois red light camera program,” McSweeney said in a statement. “These cameras are not about safety. They are all about producing revenue and lining the pockets of political insiders. It is wrong; it is corrupt and it must stop.”
Like the 84-4 vote to advance the bill on the House floor, criticism of red light cameras has been largely bipartisan in recent weeks.
State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, echoed that sentiment in January when she announced the state would no longer assist municipalities in collecting red light camera fines.
But much of the floor discussion Wednesday centered on why McSweeney’s bill exempted home rule municipalities.
“My question, ultimately, is why not wait and run a bill that actually bans them in their entirety, because what this does is a piecemeal approach,” Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican said in floor debate, adding that it could be misinterpreted as a complete ban by news consumers.
McSweeney said he would be ready to support a complete ban if the bill got as far as a floor vote, but no such measure has done so.
Rep. Diane Pappas, D-Itasca, argued the bill takes aim not at red light cameras but smaller communities that are already restricted on what safety measures and revenue streams they can put in place.
“What we’re doing by passing this bill is not banning evil red light cameras, we are depriving non-home rule communities of rights that home rule communities will continue to have,” she said.
Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, suggested that taking away red light ticket revenue might cause affected municipalities to raise property taxes, but McSweeney said those communities should cut costs.
DeLuca said the red light camera program should be reformed rather than partially banned.
“I believe you’re doing this bill to create a headline, you’re not doing this bill to solve corruption,” Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, said.
Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, however, strongly supported the measure, saying red light cameras “have been a crux in the black and brown communities for years.”
“Red light cameras have not helped anyone in the communities,” she said.
While only four representatives voted against the measure, five voted present and 17 did not vote on the matter. It will head to the Senate for debate in committee before it can come to a vote in the full chamber.