By Dan Sewell
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld cities’ use of traffic camera enforcement for a third time, striking down as unconstitutional legislative restrictions that included requiring a police officer to be present.
The ruling was 5-2 in support of the city of Dayton’s challenge of provisions in a state law that took effect in 2015. The city said it improperly limited local control and undercut camera enforcement that makes cities safer by reducing red-light running and speeding. Dayton and other cities including Toledo and Springfield said the law’s restrictions made traffic cameras cost-prohibitive.
The court Wednesday ruled illegal requirements in the law that an officer be present when cameras were being used, that there must be a lengthy safety study and public information campaign before cameras are used, and that drivers could be only ticketed if they exceeded the posted limit by certain amounts, such as by 6 mph in a school zone.
A majority opinion written by Justice Patrick Fischer found those three restrictions “unconstitutionally (limit) the municipality’s home-rule authority without serving an overriding state interest.”
The state’s highest court has twice previously ruled for cities on cameras.
Justice Patrick DeWine wrote a dissenting opinion, saying the legislation was “a compromise” meant to deal with concerns that cameras were being misused to generate revenue while allowing municipalities “some opportunity” to employ cameras.
“Today’s decision has the unfortunate impact of further muddling a body of law that is already hopelessly confused,” DeWine wrote. Justice William O’Neill also dissented.
The state had contended that the law was within the legislature’s powers as a “statewide and comprehensive” way to regulate enforcement of traffic. Supporters said officers were needed to detect camera malfunctions and situations that clearly call for an exemption from ticketing.
An Ohio state senator who helped write the law called the decision a “Pyrrhic victory” for home-rule cities and villages and pledged Wednesday that legislators will keep fighting “policing for profit.” Cincinnati Republican Sen. Bill Seitz said the Legislature has “other tools in the tool kit,” such as reducing amounts cities and villages receive through the state’s local government fund
Dayton police, whose use of traffic cameras goes back nearly 15 years, were already planning to soon resume using officer-manned fixed cameras at certain sites, saying traffic crashes had shot up after camera enforcement halted. Dayton is also among cities equipping some officers with new hand-held cameras to record violations.
City spokeswoman Toni Bankston said Dayton is pleased with the court’s decision.
“In light of this ruling, we will begin the process of reviewing and analyzing the best way to proceed with our enforcement program,” Bankston said in a statement.
Ohio has been a battleground for years in the debate across the United States over camera enforcement. Critics say cities use them to boost revenues while violating motorists’ rights. Supporters say they increase safety and free up police for other crime fighting.
Attorney General’s spokesman Dan Tierney said Wednesday the case couldn’t be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because it involved a solely state law.
This story has been corrected to show that Dayton hasn’t resumed use of traffic cameras.
Associated Press reporter Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed.
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