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Congress OKs Red-Light Cameras in District of Columbia

July 26, 2001

Congress has approved the District of Columbia’s request to use $800,000 for its new photo radar cameras designed to catch speeders electronically, according to The Washington Times. The speed camera program is expected to officially begin Aug. 1, and the District needed congressional approval for the money it expects to spend to implement the plan. The District received the authorization to use the money when the House passed the final version of a military supplemental appropriations bill that goes until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Senate also has already given the go-ahead to the stopgap spending measure bill, and President Bush is expected to sign it. But a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said the federal government has no business encouraging the use of the cameras, especially in the nation’s capital. Armey voted against the spending measure specifically because Congress was authorizing the District to use the $800,000 for its speed-camera programs, giving the District federal approval to invade drivers’ privacy, Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said. Several House Republican aides said that unlike past instances with controversial subjects involving the District, such as funding for needle-sharing programs, the line item for the cameras was handled quietly. But the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for the District, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), said the money was put into the supplemental spending bill because the District asked for it and the spending bill was not meant to address policy issues. Knollenberg said that he is somewhat supportive of the 39 red-light cameras around the District as well as the benefits of the speed cameras, saying they have been proven to reduce accidents. The District is also using the speed cameras as a “cash cow,” Diamond said. Since the red-light camera program was introduced in August 1999, more than $12 million in fines have been collected from roughly 231,000 citations, according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Web site According to internal documents obtained by The Washington Times, the city is expected to reap a windfall of about $11 million a year from fines. Police spokesman Kevin Morison said that both the red-light cameras and the new speed cameras are intended to save lives and not 1 cent of the $800,000 comes from taxpayers.
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