By Dave Williams
ATLANTA - Legislation putting new restrictions on the use of red-light cameras in Georgia, which has struggled in the General As sembly for two years, finally cleared the Senate Thursday.
The bill, which started in the House as an attempt to abolish the cameras, instead would require local governments to obtain a state permit for each camera they wish to install.
In considering permit requests, the Department of Transportation would make sure the city or county intended to use red-light cameras to improve safety, not as an additional source of revenue.
The bill passed the House last year but was tabled by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Local governments were opposed to a provision in the House version of the measure that would have required cities and counties to share the fine revenue with the state.
The new Senate version of the legislation reached the floor last week but was tabled again after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the chamber's presiding officer, objected to a flurry of what he characterized as "Mickey Mouse" floor amendments, some of which would have gutted the measure.
The bill's route through the legislature has been so difficult because it has drawn opposition from two sides.
Some House Republicans opposed it last year as a violation of personal privacy rights.
On Thursday, Sen. Bill Jackson (R-Appling) used similar arguments in an impassioned plea against the use of red-light cameras and the automatic fines of up to $70 imposed on violators.
"These things are like a bandit in the bush," he said. "I don't believe in tricking the citizens who sent me here."
On the other side of the debate, Sen. John Douglas (R-Covington) said the red-light camera program is doing what it was intended to do - reducing traffic accidents at busy intersections - and should be left alone.
"Expert after expert has told us red-light cameras work," he said. "We need to let this system work out."
Before approving the bill 45-5, senators narrowly defeated an amendment to dedicate half of the fine revenue to the statewide trauma care network.
"People who are in a major accident go to trauma hospitals," said Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).
But Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson urged his colleagues to keep the trauma care debate separate from the red-light camera bill.
Johnson (R-Savannah) said the Senate Finance Committee is working on legislation asking Georgia voters to approve a $10 car registration fee to raise money for trauma care.
"If you want to do something for trauma care, let's do it the right way," he said.
Because of the changes made by the Senate, the bill now returns to the House.