For the third time in less than a decade, the use of traffic cameras by Ohio cities is before the state Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the city of Dayton are urging the justices to reject a law passed by the Legislature that took effect in 2015. It added restrictions on camera use led by requiring that a police officer be present when cameras are used to generate red-light or speeding citations.
Dayton, backed by other Ohio cities, says that requirement is meant only to make it cost-prohibitive for them to use their cameras. Supporters say cameras increase safety by deterring drivers from speeding and running red lights while freeing up police resources for other duty.
Ohio legislators and other critics around the country say cities use camera enforcement to boost revenues while violating motorists’ rights to due process.
The Ohio Supreme Court has twice upheld the use of camera enforcement, the last time by 4-3 vote in December 2014. That ruling tracked a 2008 decision in an Akron case when the state’s high court said cities have the right to use camera systems under their “home-rule” authority to make local laws.
The 2014 ruling overturned a state appeals court agreeing with a driver cited for speeding in Toledo that the city improperly bypassed the courts.
Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx, who successfully argued the 2014 case, said the latest case pits city home-rule powers against a statewide law passed by the Legislature. So this time, instead of motorists who are challenging the cities, the other side is being argued by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.
“It’s a whole different dynamic,” Loukx said.
The attorney general contends that the new law serves the public interest by creating a uniform, statewide system for traffic camera use.
“Just as a local authority may not use blue stop signs … so too that local authority may not use traffic cameras in conflict with state standards,” his office said in its written brief on the law.
The state also says having a police officer present helps detect camera system malfunctions and situations that clearly call for an exemption from ticketing, such as a driver racing to get a woman to a hospital to give birth.
“A police officer’s presence inserts a level of common sense,” the attorney general’s office wrote.
Dayton contended in its written arguments that the law would allow legislators to negate cities’ local authority and said: “The sole function of the Officer Present Requirement is to make it prohibitively expense for cities to utilize automated photo enforcement programs.”
Loukx, whose city has won a ruling by a different state appeal court than Dayton’s that upheld Toledo’s camera use under the new law, said it’s difficult to predict the high court’s leanings because two justices on the 2014 panel have been replaced. One was in the majority, one dissented.
Also, Justice Terrence O’Donnell again recused himself from hearing a traffic camera case and a different state appellate judge than the one who in 2014 joined the majority will sit in for O’Donnell. Cases involving Toledo and Springfield are on hold pending the Dayton case ruling, expected later this year.
“I can’t prognosticate on this at all,” Loukx said. “I can only say that I wish Dayton well.”