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Updated Mar 11, 2013 - 5:44 pm

House OKs bill on photo radar on state highways

PHOENIX -- State transportation officials will have to confirm there's a legitimate safety need before allowing cities to put photo enforcement on state highways under a bill approved Monday by the Arizona House.

Cities will also have to show photo enforcement has improved safety if they want to renew their state permits every three years.

Eight cities and towns now use photo radar on stretches of state highways, and Casa Grande and Sierra Vista are working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to add them. The state currently only reviews the engineering of city-installed photo enforcement cameras on state highways before issuing permits.

The bill is one of three in the House this session targeting photo radar. A bill that would have banned it outright failed in February, while one limiting the hours when process servers can track down people who ignore mailed notices passed last week. That bill, however, was held in the Senate Judiciary committee Monday after members sharply questioned the sponsor about the time limits.

The sponsor of the bill approved Monday, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, said a group of El Mirage residents complained about cameras on Grand Avenue, and she learned after looking into the issue that ADOT can't reject cameras and there's no statewide policy on their installation.

``So I thought it was a common sense, moderate approach to say that cities have to prove that there's a public safety reason to place a photo radar camera on a state highway and that ADOT would determine if there is an improvement in public safety'' at renewal, Lesko said. ``If they're just putting them on for revenue purposes, I don't agree with that.''

A two-year state-run photo enforcement program ended when Gov. Jan Brewer allowed the contract to expire in 2010. The Legislature has failed in recent years to ban its use statewide.

In Prescott Valley, where two cameras are set up along state Route 69, Town manager Larry Tarkowski said he's not worried about the added rules if the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by Brewer.

``We can demonstrate that we have had a 30 percent reduction in injury accidents since the employment of photo enforcement,'' Tarkowski said. ``Our mayor and Town Council have supported photo enforcement for that reason alone.''

The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said he really wants photo enforcement eliminated, because in his view it is unconstitutional. But with measures outlawing it failing again this year, he said the bills that are advancing at least make it harder for cities and towns to set them up.

``That bill, even though I co-sponsored it, it's not nearly as strong as I'd like it to be,'' Seel said of the bill that passed the House Monday. ``Sometimes here in the Legislature we do shades of gray.''

Besides Prescott Valley and El Mirage, the other municipalities using photo enforcement cameras on state highways are Globe, Superior, Show Low, Star Valley, Tucson and Chandler.

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