Clinging to Its Ticketing Cameras, Toledo Sues Ohio

TOLEDO, Ohio (CN) – Just over a week after its first effort foundered at the Ohio Supreme Court, the city of Toledo brought a constitutional complaint to revive its program of issuing traffic tickets with unmanned cameras.

Toledo notes that it has been issuing red-light and speeding tickets via traffic cameras since 1999 but that state lawmakers intruded on their authority with House Bill 64.

Inspired by a version sponsored by Republican Senator Bill Seitz, the 2014 Set-Off Law, as it was known, calls for a police officer to be present at camera locations and to witness traffic infractions. Cities that do not comply face funding deductions from the state budget equal to the fines that they collected for violations.

Though cities like Toledo and Dayton notched early successes in their court challenges to Seitz’s Senate Bill 342, legislators pushed House Bill 64 through to enforce the regulations in court while appeals were still pending.

Ohio met a roadblock, however, when the Lucas County Common Pleas Court blocked enforcement of the House bill, finding the state in contempt of court.

A panel of the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling, but the Ohio Supreme Court vacated that judgment on June 20.

In addition to finding that the city had failed to challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 64, the panel said that courts cannot prevent enforcement of regulations that had yet to come into law.

“Courts may intervene only after a legislative enactment has been passed and challenged in an action properly before it,” Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote for the court.

The court opened the door for Toledo to sue again, an invitation that the city accepted on June 28 with a new complaint in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

As before, the city argues that the law violates “house-rule” powers that allow local governments to create their own regulations.

“The state cannot prohibit or regulate municipalities from utilizing automated-traffic cameras and it cannot indirectly enforce unconstitutional laws by withholding or threatening to withhold local government funds if the unconstitutional laws are not followed,” the 13-page complaint states.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said his office had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

“Regarding further filings, we will respond in kind in court,” Tierney said Monday in a phone call.

Joseph McNamara, a senior attorney for Toledo’s law department, said that he expected the court to find the law unconstitutional under Ohio law.

“From the city’s perspective, we view this is a home-rule issue where the Ohio Constitution gives cities the power to make these decisions for themselves and through their locally elected representatives,” McNamara said in a phone interview. “The state shouldn’t be trying to regulate this area at all.”

Toledo says that its nine-year traffic-camera program has caused injuries and deaths at city intersections and roadways to decline.

Despite the program’s success, Toledo says it loses in state funding the dollar-for-dollar amount it charges violators in fines, even though it claims that less than 100 percent of those fines make it into city coffers.

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