THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Hospital Funding Remains in Red Light Bill

Mar 9, 2010

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on March 9, 2010.


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 9, 2010….Hospitals, particularly trauma centers, would continue to get some of the proceeds from tickets written under a statewide red light camera system following a House committee vote Tuesday.

Currently, nearly 60 cities have put up cameras and used them to catch red light runners, following Gulf Breeze, which did so in 2005 despite an attorney general’s opinion that said traffic citations couldn’t be written by local governments based on the pictures. Gulf Breeze got around that – and the other cities followed suit – by hitting violators with a code violation of $100, rather than a traffic fine.

The police chief in Gulf Breeze said violations dropped from around 150 a month to under 100 after the camera was installed on U.S. 98.

The bill (HB 325) approved Tuesday by the House Health Care Regulation Policy Committee sets up a statewide standard for cameras and allows them to be used to hit drivers with traffic fines. While it would standardize the equipment statewide, it grandfathers in those cameras already in use. It would create a uniform fine, however.

That fine would be $155, $75 of which would be kept by the local government with $55 going to the state’s general fund and the rest going into a Department of Health Trust fund that would go to various health care needs, primarily in hospitals. The main beneficiary would be trauma centers, with the idea that they treat a lot of the victims of car crashes.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who told the committee that staff had questions about possible constitutional issues in spelling out particular types of facilities that would get the money, so he was going to ask the panel to delete the part of the bill earmarking the fine money – with the intent that he would work out the questions and get the language back in later, partly because he said it was important and partly because he said the Senate won’t pass the bill without money for trauma centers.

But the committee revolted, declining to oblige the sponsor and amend the language out.

“The trauma funding was really the best part of this bill. Why would we want to remove this,” said Rep. Doc Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, summing up remarks from several members. “The intent was to support trauma centers.” Renuart noted that was the only reason a bill dealing with traffic laws was even before the health care committee.

The panel voted unanimously to leave the earmarks for hospitals in the bill, which then passed the committee, also unanimously.

Before the vote, the committee heard from Melissa Wandall, who has lobbied for the legislation for several years, since her husband was killed in a red light running accident six years ago.

“I know this bill is going to save lives, it’s not about just trying to pay tribute to my husband,” she said. “It’s about how at the end of the day, that moms and dads, wives and husbands are going to meet again…These cameras are going to retrain people’s brains to stop again.”

The measure now goes to House Finance and Tax. A similar Senate bill (SB 294) hasn’t yet been heard in committee.