By Michael Davis
If a bill introduced in the Georgia General Assembly this year passes, county and city police across Georgia could be a rare sight on the state's interstate highways.
The bill, House Bill 6, would have speeding fines collected off of interstate highways by local police put directly into the state treasury.
Local leaders and police groups are afraid the bill will discourage police from patrolling interstates.
"That may be good for the coffers of Georgia but it would not be good for us," said Henry County Commission Chairman Jason Harper in a recent meeting with members of Henry's legislative delegation. "Across the state of Georgia, you would affect safety because across the state of Georgia, counties would stop patrolling the interstates."
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ben Bridges, R-Cleveland, says the measure is intended to keep local jurisdictions from running speed traps on interstates in order to generate revenue and points out that fines generated by Georgia State Patrol stops would still go to the local jurisdiction.
"The purpose of this is to keep local jurisdictions from preying off the public just for the purpose of making money," said Bridges, a retired state trooper. Some jurisdictions, he added, "are stopping people they know aren't going to come back to court."
"They need to be protecting the public where the public needs to be protected," he said.
But separating interstate speeding fines from other types of fines may pose clerical problems, said Clayton County State Court Clerk Brenda Smith.
"At this time, the way we do business, that's not something we have to track," she said. "And if we have to start tracking where the ticket is given, I see that being a lot of extra work for my office."
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police continues its stand against the measure, saying that if local communities don't see a fiscal benefit to patrolling highways, their officers' time will be used elsewhere, possibly leaving highway speed limits meaningless.
"If there are no residuals going to municipalities for their labor, they are less likely to apply that labor in the area of traffic enforcement," said GACP spokesman Frank V. Rotondo.
Rotondo points out that there are other Georgia laws that are designed to keep local police from "exerting too much traffic control," such as a statute that allows the state to revoke a department's radar certificate if fines generated from tickets of 10-17 miles per hour over the speed limit (a common infraction) make up more than 40 percent of a department's budget.
"There are some logical approaches our legislators have used to address over-zealous law enforcement," Rotondo said.
Bridges said he will continue to fight to get his bill, which was stopped in committee last year, passed.
"I'm not doing this to make money for the state," he said. "I just don't feel like public safety (personnel) ought to be out there making money."
On the net: http://www.legis.state.ga.us