An Outright Red-Light Camera Ban at Risk in Texas Senate - Texas Scorecard

Municipal police and local officials from across Texas descended on Austin Tuesday hoping to defeat citizen-led efforts to ban red-light cameras in the Lone Star State. While unsuccessful in scuttling the law, taxpayers should be concerned that bureaucrats were able to place a grandfathering clause on the legislation.

As originally introduced, State Sen. Bob Hall’s (R–Edgewood) Senate Bill 653 would have eliminated red-light cameras across the state—devices that conservatives say infringe on the rights to due process of Texans.

“The Texas Legislature’s responsibility, first and foremost, is the protection of the people of Texas,” said Hall. “That includes protection against violations of constitutional rights and protection from things that put their safety at risk. Continuing to allow the existence of photographic traffic signal enforcement systems is an abdication of both of these responsibilities.”

Most Texas Republicans agree with Hall, and the Texas GOP platform explicitly calls for the elimination of them entirely. Plank 110 of the RPT platform states:

“We urge the Texas Legislature to enact legislation for the statewide ban of all photo enforcement ticket cameras, such as red-light cameras, speed cameras, and external-facing cameras on buses.”

However, when the bill was heard Tuesday, a committee substitute was presented instead containing a grandfather clause for municipalities operating the devices without a force majeure component in their contract with vendors—a change activists believe senate leaders forced Hall to accept in order to receive a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Transportation.

Hall’s opening remarks seemed to support that theory.

“We worked with the chairman’s office to add a clause which applies to contracts between local authorities and red-light camera companies that were entered into before January 1, 2019,” said Hall as he laid out his legislation.

“Systems authorized by contracts entered into before January 1, 2019 would be able to continue operation until expiration of the contracts, provided they do not contain provisions authorizing termination of the contract on the basis of adverse state legislation.”

That change was shocking to those who had come to Austin to testify in support of the legislation, leading some of them to change their position on the legislation.

Kelly Canon, a conservative activist from Arlington who helped defeat red-light cameras in her city, was one of those who changed her position.

“I want to change my position to against, because I was told that there was a committee substitute for the bill that adds a grandfather clause to the bill,” said Canon.

“Before I change your position to against, I want to tell you that, overwhelmingly, these contracts have a force majeure clause,” said Robert Nichols, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “There’s very few cities that do not have that clause in their contracts.”

Canon also made clear to the members of the committee that the House version of the bill, without any grandfather clause, had already garnered the support of more than 100 authors and coauthors, spanning both political parties.

She argues support to end the practice immediately was popular enough to get more than two-thirds of Texas House members, and the Texas Senate should follow suit.

Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down the night before the committee meeting on calls to end the practice on social media. Abbott even went as far as thanking and promoting the House bill’s author, Bedford Republican State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, just a few days prior.

“Either red-light cameras are unconstitutional or they’re not. I swore an oath to protect the Constitution, and I meant it,” Stickland told Texas Scorecard following the committee meeting.

“Any efforts to circumvent my constituents’ rights will be met with fury on the Texas House floor,” he added.

Hall’s bill was left pending in the Senate Transportation Committee. Stickland’s House version has not been scheduled for a hearing yet but is expected to be heard before the House Transportation Committee, chaired by Edinburg Democrat Terry Canales, as early as next week.