Photo-enforcement law's motives far from picture-perfect - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Photo-enforcement law's motives far from picture-perfect

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 11:59 pm, Sat May 21, 2011.

Now done with seven years as California governor, The Associated Press reported last week that Arnold Schwarzenegger is already booked to start shooting a movie this fall and to make animated features as well.

Here in Arizona, though, politicians like to mix the entertainment in while they’re still in office.

Let’s put aside the knee-slappers some of our other lawmakers are telling us — such as how those several-thousand-dollar trips to watch football games in the Midwest and East that the Fiesta Bowl paid for were “educational” — for even more laughs on photo enforcement.

These are legislators behind the passage of a new state law requiring cities to write wording on mailed photo-enforcement citations that clearly outline an alleged violator’s rights and obligations. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s why these lawmakers were behind this law that’s the belly-shaker.

When Senate Bill 1398 becomes effective later this summer, anyone who gets a citation in his or her mail will see rewritten language saying the citation doesn’t need to be paid simply because it was received and that under law an alleged violator has the right to be properly served with a citation by a legal process server.

The not-so-secret hope from the bill’s sponsors, who are not fans of photo enforcement, is that more people will tear up those mailed tickets in hopes that the process servers will not find them. Those the process servers cannot serve within 90 days are off the hook, as after that period the ticket is torn up, something not found in the current wording.

Putting more process servers on the prowl through Valley neighborhoods to search for alleged violators, in turn, will cost cities even more money to operate photo enforcement and perhaps ultimately force them to do what the state did last summer: end photo enforcement in their jurisdictions.

As the Tribune’s Mike Sakal reported May 7, Mesa and Chandler lose money on photo enforcement — six figures and five figures, respectively, last year. In discontinuing the practice on Arizona freeways, Gov. Jan Brewer said the state wasn’t earning enough. So you don’t hear most politicians using terms they used to about photo enforcement, such as “cash cow” and “moneymaker.”

Well, most of them. SB 1398’s co-sponsor, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, told Sakal that the current citation wording is “intended to raise revenue, not to provide a deterrent to speeding.”

Maybe Biggs ought to visit the folks in Mesa’s or Chandler’s city halls to talk about their “revenue.”

Elected officials also have returned to the old libertarian argument, that photo enforcement and how citations are issued deny a citizen-driver his or her personal liberty.

Here’s bill co-sponsor Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who told Sakal that his goal is to completely rid Arizona of traffic cameras:

“Photo enforcement is a huge infringement on the liberty of citizens in the state because they monitor one’s movement,” he said.

And Antenori also said: “They aren’t discretionary and those who get them are denied due process because you can’t cross examine your accuser.”

Well, then, live police officers “monitoring one’s movement” must also be a “huge infringement on the liberty of citizens in this state,” too, but nobody’s calling for cops to stop watching people.

The “can’t cross-examine” argument is also a big chuckle. Fact is, if you indicate on the part of the citation you send back that you’d like to schedule a hearing, you have all the due-process rights and opportunities to confront your accuser in court and make him/her present evidence against you as does anyone else.

But if you get a citation in the mail, as I did in 2007, and you remember exactly what you did and when you did it, as I did (I was driving 47 mph in a 35 mph zone), then pay the fine, or a similar amount for traffic school (as I did, and I’ve been a more careful and un-photographed driver since).

Absolutely, you have the right to make the state go through legal machinations toward finding you. This makes perfect sense if you didn’t speed and intend to plead accordingly. But if, despite knowing you sped, for three months you would rather flinch every time the doorbell rings, if you’d rather jump out of your socks as a stranger seeking directions taps you on the shoulder in a parking lot, then that couple of hundred bucks in fines must be far more precious to you than most of us could imagine.

More precise language informing you that you can take the wait-for-the-process-server-to-find-you route isn’t the problem. Anything that spells out one’s rights more clearly should be applauded. But some of the motives behind these laws don’t deserve applause. Just more laughs. And we’ll be in for some more, for sure.

Because unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, our Arizona lawmakers will be back.

• Mark J. Scarp (mscarp1@cox.net) is a Tribune contributing columnist who writes on Sundays.

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