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Cagle blasts Senate over added amendments

POSTED: March 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has earned a reputation for his calm demeanor. But some unexpected maneuvering on a bill regulating red light cameras had the lieutenant governor seeing red.

Senators tabled the measure, but not before the Chestnut Mountain Republican scolded them for trying to clutter it up with a stack of "Mickey Mouse-type amendments."

"And I’m not real happy about it," Cagle warned from his podium presiding over the Senate.

Supporters of red light cameras — which snap photos of drivers who disobey traffic laws — say they’re needed to change dangerous driving habits.

Opponents said they intrude on personal liberties.

"You can’t cross-examine a camera," said Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jack Murphy, the bill would require local governments to apply to the state Department of Transportation to install red light cameras and to show that they’re needed to prevent serious accidents at a particular intersection, not just to bring in extra cash.

"We think they need to be for health and safety and not for revenue," Murphy, the Republican from Cumming said.

The senator said that a new traffic light cannot be installed without DOT permission, and he contends the same should be true for enforcement cameras.

Murphy said red light cameras are currently operating in 30 Georgia cities, and they could continue to proliferate without any oversight. Violators captured by the cameras face fines.

"Sen. Murphy talked about the bill in caucus and pleaded not to have amendments placed on the bill, because it had been worked on so hard," said Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville.

Senators tried to tack on a half-dozen amendments, including one that would have funneled revenue from the camera fines into the state’s cash-strapped trauma system. The majority of the state’s trauma cases arise from traffic accidents.

But Murphy said the move was likely unconstitutional.

"We had two amendments to amendments, which was eight amendments," Hawkins said. "The lieutenant governor felt like we were doing committee work on the Senate floor."

Cagle ruled that most of the amendments weren’t relevant to the bill. The Senate then voted 49-4 to table the measure. It will be reconsidered in committee and could still make it back to the floor by the end of the session.

The measure, House Bill 77, was passed last year in the Georgia House. Murphy’s committee drafted a substitute to the House bill and voted to recommend its approval.

While the cameras are controversial, some lawmakers said hitting drivers in the pocketbook works.

"Unless we’re going to fund a cop at every corner there is no better way than this camera system to get people to stop running red lights and change their driving habits," said state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle.

Murphy said Wednesday that he believes the bill can be brought back to the Senate before the end of session.



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