The village of New Miami has passed another speed camera ordinance, borrowing rulings from several Ohio courts that have declared the new state law unconstitutional.
But it remains to be seen if the village of about 2,000 residents will be able to reactivate its mobile speed cameras, which were shut down by a Butler County judge’s orders over a year ago. Retired Common Pleas Judge Michael Sage declared the devices unconstitutional and expressly banned their use in New Miami.
The village’s attorney Wilson Weisenfelder has filed a motion in Judge Michael Oster’s court asking him to lift the injunction Sage placed on the cameras, in light of the new law village officials passed on May 21. He said the Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Walker v. Toledo and several recent judicial tests of the constitutionality of the new state law should free the village from the injunction.
“The amended ordinance is substantially different from the original ordinance that was the subject of the injunction,” Weisenfelder wrote. “Moreover, the law regarding the constitutional claims against the ASEP as operated under the former ordinance 1917 is substantially different after Walker, than at the time when this court issued its injunction in February 2014. The original conditions, the law in Ohio and the content of the ordinance, have so materially changed that the injunction cannot be held to apply to the amended ordinance.”
New Miami, like several other jurisdictions that have successfully — so far — challenged the new law that took effect March 23, wrote in its ordinance that a police officer will examine evidence of alleged traffic violations, rather than sit next to the speed cameras as the law reads. Judges in Montgomery, Lucas and Summit counties have all said parts of the new law, like the officer on camera duty, usurp home rule protections, and thus are unconstitutional.
The man who sponsored the new law, state Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp. said the law is unequivocal.
“Wrong,” Seitz said. “That’s not what the law says, and that’s not the intent. They have to have one (an officer) there. Specifically rejected was a proposal that they could sit back at the station, eating donuts and watching the film. No.”
And if the recent common pleas court rulings hold up in the higher courts, Seitz said jurisdictions that continue to disobey the law will feel it in their pocketbooks. He said he and State Rep. Ron Maag have inserted in the budget bill a provision where the jurisdictions using speed cameras will be required to report every ticket and dollar collected to the state, and if they were collected contrary to new law, their local government funds will be docked dollar-for-dollar.
“So if they lose in the Supreme Court, they’re gonna owe a whole lot of people a lot of money,” Seitz said. “If they win in the Supreme Court, they’re gonna be able to continue using their cameras to their heart’s content thereby flouting state law. They can go right ahead and do it, we don’t care, but we will simply reduce their (Local Government Fund) money, because as they’ve said all along, it’s not about the money. Where I come from that’s called checkmate.”
New Miami is sitting on about $1.8 million in speed camera ticket money while the case plays out in court.
Acting New Miami Mayor Bob Henley said he was of the opinion they will have an officer stationed at the cameras, but the ordinance reads, though not specifically, otherwise. If the state budget bill takes effect as Seitz intends, Henley said no one will be able to afford to use the cameras.
“Dollar for dollar, that’d be nuts, that’d be crazy for anybody to do it,” he said. “ I don’t understand why anybody would want to give your government funding back; that’s nuts.”
Henley noted that with so many moving parts swirling around the issue, it will likely be a long time before anyone has to make the choice of manning the speed monitors or not. While the cameras have been deactivated by court order, Henley said they haven’t taken any special steps to beef up patrols in that area. He did say they have already complied with one part of the new law, and that is to commission a safety study. He said the study basically validated the village installing the cameras along U.S. 127 in the first place.
“There was one year there was no accidents on that stretch of road at all,” he said. “That was in 2012, and that was the year the traffic cameras were up.”
The new village ordinance also follows the new law in that no tickets will be issued unless someone is caught speeding at least six miles per hour over the limit in school or park zones and 10 mph elsewhere. The safety study shows there were 26 accidents on the road from 2009 to 2013. A two-day speed survey in March shows 7,217 drove under the 35 mph speed limit; 8,035 sped between 36 and 40 mph and 2,456 people drove between 41 and 45 mph. There were 433 people who drove 10 miles or more over the limit and three people drove 61 mph or faster.
“Between Hamilton and New Miami it’s 55, and they just seem to want to speed up before they get to that 55 mph zone, and they don’t want to slow down going into the 35 mph zone,” Henley said. “There were some of them that got citations (while the cameras were rolling) for going 80 mph.”
Oster already had a hearing scheduled for Wednesday on Weisenfelder’s motion to clarify his ruling upholding the Sage decision. It’s unclear whether the judge will address both motions or not. Josh Engel, an attorney for the plaintiffs who are trying to get their speeding ticket money refunded, said he doesn’t think Oster should address the newest motion at all.
“It’s kind of problematic. They are essentially asking the judge for an advisory opinion, and that’s not an appropriate thing for a court to do,” Engel said. “The more salient point as I looked at that, I think the new ordinance has the same constitutional infirmities that the old ordinance has.”
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