Law enforcement spokesmen have this advice: Be cautious if following the example of a Tennessee state legislator, at least when it comes to certain traffic tickets.
Rep. Andy Holt (R-District 76) made headlines on May 25 when he posted a Facebook video of himself burning his own ticket that was based on an automated traffic camera’s footage.
His advice? “Throw it in the trash. Personally, I prefer to burn mine.”
He asserts that traffic camera companies illegally review videos and select which incidents law enforcement should see.
On his website, Holt says, “Even though state law mandates that no one other than law enforcement may view the video evidence and determine whether or not a violation has occurred, traffic camera companies view the video footage and determine whether or not a violation has occurred well in advance of law enforcement. The companies then send the scrubbed footage back to law enforcement after they have deleted all the instances of violations where they feel the law had not been violated. Police then view this footage a second time to confirm.”
He also alleges that cities and these companies are intentionally deceiving people into paying the related fines through false legal and financial threats.
In the 2015 legislative session, he managed to outlaw the future installation of speed cameras, but cities that had existing contracts were allowed to let those contracts expire. He said multiple cities extended their contracts for 20+ years before the law went into effect.
In the 2016 session, he passed HB2510, which requires that all traffic camera citations include a statement in big bold text: “Nonpayment of this violation cannot have a negative impact on your driver’s license, car insurance rates, or credit report.”
Some cities are also adding a statement that payment is required by law, and Holt contends that this is false because payment is not required unless a person is convicted of the traffic violation.
The bill requiring the statement on traffic tickets passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide 92-2 margin in the House. It took effect when Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law on April 27.
Holt also calls shenanigans on the anticipated fiscal impact of this statement being printed on the tickets. He explained that state analysts routinely estimate the implementation cost of a bill introduced in Tennessee. This analysis, known as a “fiscal note,” typically deters passage of costly legislation, he said.
His 2016 legislation had an enormous fiscal note, saying that cities would lose tens of thousands of dollars.
“By putting this fiscal note on my legislation, they effectively admitted that the only way they make so much money is by coercion and lies, and if people were informed of the existing state law, then cities would lose tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “I found that to be quite disturbing. But, what’s more interesting is who put the fiscal note on the legislation in the first place. The fiscal review analysts didn’t use state data to come to that figure. They used data from a lobbying group that lobbied to legalize cameras in the first place years ago. A lobbying group that gets paid countless dollars to keep cameras up and operating. So, we’re expected to believe that the same lobbyists that first got cameras put up in the state of Tennessee provided honest data regarding the fiscal implications of legislation that will cost their clients millions of dollars in revenue? Not likely.”
In other media stories about Holt’s stance on discarding traffic tickets based on automatic cameras, law enforcement authorities have discouraged following Holt’s advice.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said in a Knoxville News Sentinel story, “No one likes to be caught violating traffic offenses, regardless of how they are caught, but they have a legal obligation to properly address it.”
Camera citations are civil penalties that can go to collection efforts, but in his ticket-burning video Holt said they are not a criminal offense (misdemeanor) as when a real officer writes a ticket.
See Holt’s full press release and the video of him burning his own traffice ticket on his website at bit.ly/burn-tickets. For more information, also see the Knoxville News Sentinel story at bit.ly/traffic-tickets.