City of St. Petersburg traffic administrators made a wish, and State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg granted it, in an amendment filed at 1:39 a.m. last Thursday.
Barring a gubernatorial veto, after July 1st, cities and municipalities can set up their own appeals process for citations issued by red light cameras.
The upside: an alternative to challenging a camera-generated citation in court, at the risk of an extra $100 penalty and points against one's drivers license.
The downside: cities [or counties] could add a surcharge of up to $250 to the original $158 penalty, for a total of $408 for unsuccessful challenges.
"I don't think there would be any votes on the city council to do this," council chair Karl Nurse told FOX 13 News. "I would hope that there wouldn't be."
The legislation also let's the local government keep all of the surcharge, instead of splitting it with the state, leading Nurse to predict some other Florida city would go for the extra money.
"This would not have been written if there hadn't been at least one city with powerful legislators who thought this would be a great revenue source."
At the time, the chairman of the city council did not know St. Petersburg did request the legislation. City transportation manager Joe Kubicki said the idea is to give challengers an option other than traffic court.
Kubicki said the city did not request the $250 surcharge. However, city attorney John Wolfe pointed out successful challengers would pay nothing, so any surcharges would have to cover all of the expenses of the hearing process.
Local traffic camera critic Matt Florell questioned the impartiality of hearing officers employed by the city with so much money at stake. In 2012, red light cameras generated more than 33,000 citations.
St. Petersburg police say roughly 9,000 of those -- or more than 25 percent -- resulted in court cases. Florell noted Senator Brandes's last-minute amendment made other significant changes to camera enforcement's, none of which were visible until this weekend.
"These requests, that I'm aware of, were never made public," Florell said Monday. "If city council members and even the city council chair doesn't know that these things were requested, I would say that's worrisome."
A man answering the telephone in Senator Brandes' St. Petersburg office said a statement was being prepared but it has not yet been received.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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