Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cameras for school buses bill fails to get delegation support

ANNAPOLIS -- Frederick County's delegation of state lawmakers will not back a measure intended to catch people speeding past school buses.
The Frederick County Board of Education requested state legislation to install cameras that take pictures of cars passing stopped school buses with the stop sign out. Those caught in photographs would be issued a ticket with a fine.

Although against the law to pass buses with the stop sign out, the school system has noticed an increase in violations in the past three years, said Hal Keller, executive director of fiscal services.

Since December, the school system has recorded more than 100 people passing school buses loading and unloading children, Keller said.

"I'm here to eliminate that behavior," he told the delegation Friday. "I want to prevent a fatality before it occurs."

The delegation tied 4-4 over the proposal, which results in a failed motion.

Delegates Paul Stull, Galen Clagett, Donald Elliott and Sue Hecht were in favor. Sens. Alex Mooney and David Brinkley, and Delegates Charles Jenkins and Joe Bartlett voted against.

Several lawmakers said they were interested in introducing school-bus stop-sign cameras statewide. The proposal they voted on would have applied only to Frederick County.

Stull and Brinkley, both Republicans, said they would sponsor statewide school-bus camera bills in their respective chambers.

Brinkley thinks that is a better option. He didn't like it when Montgomery County was the only jurisdiction in the state with speed cameras and thought it would have made more sense to address that issue for the entire state, he said.

The proposed fine could range from $100 to $575 for each violation, depending on what lawmakers decide.

A person caught passing a stopped school bus by a police officer is subject to a fine up to $575, Keller said. The school system was not seeking to keep the proceeds of the fines; they had suggested giving them to a law enforcement agency instead.

Not everyone in the delegation has been convinced the cameras are a good idea, either for Frederick County or statewide.

Mooney, a Republican who represents Frederick and Washington counties, said he would be in favor of increasing the penalty for drivers caught by a police officer instead.

He suggested taking away driver's licenses for passing stopped school buses.

Mooney is opposed because he thinks speed and red light cameras don't improve public safety.

"I don't think they make the streets safer," he said. "With speed cameras, I think they can actually make the roads more dangerous."

The bills will now go to the full General Assembly for consideration, without further input from the Frederick County delegation.