On Saturday, June 1, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1631 into law, prohibiting cities from operating photographic traffic camera systems that catch citizens speeding or running red lights and issuing them fines.
“I’m about to sign this bill that bans red light cameras,” Abbott said in a video posted to Twitter. Holding the bill up, he then said, “It is now law.”
While the law went into effect on Sunday, June 2, this doesn’t necessarily mean all red light cameras will immediately be a thing of the past. That’s because some Texas cities with cameras already in place may be allowed to keep operating them until their current contracts run out. The city of Dallas, for example, signed a decade-long contract in 2017 with an option to opt-out after seven years.
Bedford Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a tea party Republican, applauded the bill’s passage into law and questioned whether any city would be able to continue operating its cameras.
“Politicians finally relented to the pressure applied by citizen activists over red light camera lobbyists,” Stickland told The Dallas Morning News on Monday. “Without the work of patriots like Kelly Canon, Byron Schirmbeck, Kelli Cook, and Terri Hall they would still be up and violating our rights for profit. No more, onward!
He added, “I’m not sure any cities can legally continue their programs based on the wording of our bill. We are still looking through their contracts to see if any can.”
But several others, including Dallas, Irving, Garland and Plano, continue to champion the cameras, which they say improve public safety. They point to two studies that say deadly “angle” or T-bone crashes decrease when red light cameras are in place. Plus, the cameras have brought in significant sums in fines every year. Dallas, for example, netted almost $5.8 million from their $75-a-pop fines in 2018.
These same safety studies, however, contain caveats that the presence of red light cameras could result in more rear-end collisions. Opponents, like Stickland and Senate sponsor Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, say this shows the cameras don’t improve public safety, adding they believe they’re unconstitutional.
“Red light cameras violate the right to due process,” Hall said during debate on the bill in the Texas Senate, “by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick welcomed Stickland to the Senate that day, when it was passed and sent to Abbott’s desk. Stickland, who has made it a personal mission to kill other people’s legislation, has never been the primary author on a bill that has passed into law.
“Our citizens have been waiting a long time to get rid of red light cameras,” Patrick said from the dais. “And Rep. Stickland has been waiting a long time to pass a bill.”
After the debate, Hall thanked Stickland for his “tenacity.”
“I am truly honored to be the torch bearer on this fight,” Hall said. “It was a team effort. … The citizens will thank you.”
One Republican, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, and seven Democrats voted against the bill: Carol Alvarado of Houston, Nathan Johnson of Dallas, José Menéndez of San Antonio, Boris Miles of Houston, Beverly Powell of Burleson, Kirk Watson of Austin and Rodríguez.