June 03, 2007
The session from the Houston/Harris perspective

A lot of what's in the Chron overview of how the Lege affected Houston and Harris County is stuff I've blogged about in some detail, but I want to add a few comments to this effort:

Among the more visible changes locals can expect: backyard July Fourth fireworks will be safer, though perhaps a little less festive; dog owners will be held responsible the first time their pets seriously injure another person; all 20 acres of West 11th Street Park will be preserved; and red-light cameras are here to stay.

I had previously written that the West 11th Street Park was still not out of the woods, since it was apparently matching funds that were approved. However, looking at the statement by the Friends of the West 11th Street Park and the conference committee report on the budget, I think that may have been a misunderstanding. While the report does say "$3,750,000 in matching funds for the City of Houston 11th Street Park", I think the "match" is to the funds that the City of Houston had put up when it bought the parkland from HISD. $3.75 million is enough to pay the loan plus interest, so there's no need for it to match anything else. I feel much better about this now.

The county did have to play a little defense after its ability to build toll roads was jeopardized by a proposed moratorium on pay roads. Although the two-year building moratorium on private toll roads was approved, it will not affect six road construction projects for the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

"By controlling our own toll roads, we can use that money to build other access roads and free roads in Harris County," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. "It means our toll roads will be built quicker and more efficiently, tolls will be lower and money will stay in Harris County."

Unfortunately, HCTRA got all this without any real accountability being required of them. I guarantee this will be an issue in the future.

Lawmakers also ended the debate about whether cities have the right to issue civil citations to red-light runners caught on camera by incorporating it into state law.

"Our goal was to make sure we could regulate the use and revenues of red-light cameras," said State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who carried the bills in the House.

Cities will be required to study an intersection's traffic volume, collision history and frequency of red-light violations before installing cameras. After cameras go up, cities will be required to do the same to determine whether there has been a reduction in accidents.

I have presumed all along that this will mean the end of the Kubosh lawsuit, though I'm equally certain that it won't mean he'll give up. I presume that there will be a motion to dismiss the suit based on the new law, and that it will be successful. Any lawyers want to address that? I also think this is not the last we'll hear about red light cameras. I'm not sure if the sunset provision for SB1119 is still in there or not, but if it is then the matter will definitely come up again in 2009.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 03, 2007 to That's our Lege

In regards to the red light cameras:

A closer look at SB1119 shows that the sunset provision didn't appear to make it past conference.

What did make it to the Governor's desk is a bill that tells the city how to spend 100% of the revenue - none of which is allowed to touch the "general revenue" fund of the city. That will be the true test. If a city's not making money from the cameras, will they keep them?

In short, the bill says the city can pay the camera installer/operators, the officers that review the pictures, and then send 50% of the remains to the state for distribution to a trauma center. The remaining portion has to go in a local account to be used for safety programs - such as intersection improvements, traffic safety classes, etc. In addition, it prohibits the reporting of the fine to credit reporting agencies, along with maximum fine amounts - leaving cities with little to no teeth for enforcement.

Posted by: Michael W. Jones on June 4, 2007 7:02 AM