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Can Fort Worth residents succeed in banning red-light cameras in their city?

In January, a team of grassroots activists began circulating a petition to put a red-light camera ban to a citywide vote. Their task: collect 20,000 petition signatures from Fort Worth registered voters in six months.

It’s a monumental effort, the activists’ organizer Kelly Canon acknowledges. But if anyone can make it happen, Canon can.

Just a few years ago, Canon led a successful effort to banish red-light ticketing cameras from her home city of Arlington. Activists there used a provision of state law that lets citizens petition their city to hold an election to amend its charter. Volunteers gathered 11,405 signatures on their petition — nearly 2,000 more than the number required to force a city charter election — and in May of 2015, Arlington voters overwhelmingly approved a red-light camera ban with 60 percent of the vote.

Canon is using the same petition strategy now. But she says the effort to collect signatures in Fort Worth has fallen behind schedule. Canon told Texas Scorecard that her team needs help to push the petition drive over the finish line.

A petition to amend a city charter must be signed by five percent or 20,000 of the city’s registered voters. Canon’s team hopes to collect 25,000 petition signatures by July 3. Once the city certifies the petition, city council will place the proposed charter amendment on the November 6 ballot:

“The City of Fort Worth shall not use photographic traffic signal enforcement systems to civilly, criminally, or administratively enforce any state law or City Ordinance against the owner or operator of a vehicle operated in violation of a traffic control signal… nor shall it collect any money from any recipient of a Notice of Violation issued, in whole or in part, in connection with the use of a photographic traffic signal enforcement system.”

The challenge now is to get enough petition signatures in time to put the measure on the ballot this year. Then it will be in the hands of Fort Worth voters.

“Once it’s on the ballot, it’s easy,” says Canon. “People either vote for or against the cameras — and usually they vote against them.”

Voters have already banned red-light cameras in seven Texas cities: Arlington, Baytown, College Station, Conroe, Dayton, Houston, and League City.

Fort Worth is one of about 50 cities across Texas currently operating red-light ticketing cameras, with 58 installed at 44 intersections across the city. City officials say the cameras reduce accidents, but opponents say they are more about generating revenue than safety.

Red-light cameras generate an estimated $100 million a year for Texas cities. Fort Worth has raked in more than $60 million in revenue from the cameras since state law allowed them starting in 2008 — more than any other municipality in the state.

Conservative activists and lawmakers also argue that photo-enforced traffic citations violate drivers’ due process rights. Cities don’t have to prove who was driving ticketed cars, and drivers aren’t able to fight charges in front of a jury.

A years-long legal challenge to red-light ticketing cameras is currently headed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Ultimately, though, opponents like Canon want the legislature to enact a statewide ban on the cameras.

“During the past three legislative sessions, we were met with several road blocks due to poor House leadership, which thankfully will not be there next year,” Canon said. “It gives us hope.”

State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas), who co-authored a ban bill last session, says he plans to introduce new legislation in 2019 to ban all red-light cameras. Canon expects her State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) to author a statewide ban bill next year as well.

“This is my ultimate wish — to ban red-light cameras across Texas,” she added. “You fight until you finish!”

For now, that fight is focused on Fort Worth. In six weeks, the question of whether residents can succeed in banning the city’s red-light cameras this year will be answered.

Anyone wishing to help with the Fort Worth petition drive can connect with organizers via the FT WORTH – Ban Red-Light Cameras Facebook group.

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