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The Chron on the red light camera car registration plan

The Chron had an editorial over the weekend about the new ordinance passed by City Council that would require people to pay red light camera fines before they could register their car.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Houston Police Department chief financial officer and deputy director Joe Fenninger made a convincing case that concerns about the new enforcement system’s reliability are unfounded.

It’s instructive to review how the red-light citation process works. After a vehicle is photographed running a light, a police officer reviews the video of the infraction and confirms the violation. The vehicle’s current title is checked and the citation sent to the state’s official address of record for the owner, the same destination for registration renewal notices.

By the time cited motorists face the possibility of a hold on their car’s registration, they will have already received at least three notices over 84 days offering them the possibility of paying the fine over the phone by credit card, mailing in a check or paying in person at the Municipal Courts building.

A hold would not be imposed until after a citation has been processed through the court system and a judgment rendered. Those who fail to contest their cases in court would automatically be assessed $75 plus a $25 delinquency fee. Although the hold will be removed in two days’ time after receipt of payment, presenting a valid receipt will allow citizens to renew registrations at the county even if the hold is still in place.

Since registration renewals are staggered throughout the year, it is unlikely that the new enforcement measure would produce long lines at the county.

“Seems to me that the easiest thing for people to do is to pick up the phone, make the call and give credit card information, and two days later the hold is cleared,” says Fenninger. “You can then go ahead and renew by mail.” Although city officials are considering a method to allow the fine to be paid at the county when picking up new vehicle tags, the need for such an option is in doubt.

Without an effective enforcement mechanism, the purpose of red-light cameras to prevent collisions and lower subsequent death, injury and damage totals is compromised. Those who criticize possible inconveniences to those ticketed are missing that basic point.

Well, for the most part, this is really just further criticism of the concept of the cameras themselves. That battle was lost in 2007 when the Lege passed Senate Bill 1119, which explicitly gave cities the right to install and operate red light cameras, with a final bow being put on it in February when anti-camera activist Michael Kubosh dropped his lawsuit against the city. Some of the camera critics have not accepted that reality, so they find other ways to carp about them. I think it was reasonable to have these objections, but I also think they don’t present that great an obstacle. I think if we were talking about any other kind of scofflaws, this would have been totally uncontroversial.

It’s interesting that Paul Bettencourt’s office was one of the objectors to this plan, on the grounds that we couldn’t adequately ensure we were denying vehicle registration to the right person. If they showed the same level of concern about voter registrations, maybe we would have had over two million voters this year as we should have. Priorities, I guess.

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