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State Senate OKs school bus camera plan after fiery debate on red-light cameras

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Updated: May 29, 2013 6:43AM



Igniting hostilities on the Senate floor, a bid to expand the vast reach of red-light cameras by targeting motorists that illegally pass stopped school buses advanced Wednesday at the Statehouse.

Despite questions about high fines and constitutionality of the cameras, the plan sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) cleared the state Senate on a 36-12 roll call, with two members voting present, and now moves to the Illinois House.

“This is a safety mechanism,” Munoz told colleagues. “This would hopefully be a deterrent for someone going around the school bus.”

Under his plan, school districts would get the authority to partner with cities and counties in equipping school buses with the cameras, which would photograph vehicles and their license plate numbers if they go around a bus with its “stop” arm deployed as students are boarding.

Motorists would face a fine of $150 for a first-time offense and fines of $500 for any subsequent violations. Motorists ensnared by the bus cameras wouldn’t face moving violations, as they would if a police officer witnessed them going around a stopped bus.

The plan was pushed by lobbyist Al Ronan, who represents Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 and was a fund-raiser for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Another Ronan client is RedSpeed Illinois, an Illinois-based seller of red-light cameras that has pushed legislation that allowed communities to use its product.

A Republican critic of Munoz’s plan, state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), complained about the cameras’ unpopularity in Chicago and Ronan’s involvement in pushing the legislation.

Duffy also alluded to a Chicago Tribune report on a federal bribery investigation into Chicago’s red-light camera program and a rival purveyor of red-light cameras, Redflex Traffic Systems — a probe Duffy bombastically characterized Wednesday as the “largest scandal in Illinois history.”

“It’s the same camera company and the same camera lobbyists associated with Gov. Blagojevich and other scandals who’s promoting this bill,” said Duffy, who has been a frequent critic of red-light cameras.

Neither RedSpeed nor Redflex testified in favor of Munoz’s bill in Senate committee, legislative records show.

The issue is a personal one for Duffy. In 2010, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) used red light-camera video of Duffy making an illegal turn at a Schaumburg intersection to dramatize the need to allow red-light camera enforcement in Illinois.

Duffy’s statements Wednesday drew a fiery reaction from Munoz, who has accepted $4,500 in contributions from RedSpeed Illinois since 2009.

“Here he stands now, saying there’s corruption about cameras, the worse there has ever been and bringing up Blagojevich. We took that matter up, and we know where he is,” Munoz said, referring at first to Duffy and then the imprisoned governor.

“You like to go around cameras,” Munoz snapped, his voice rising in a direct verbal hit on Duffy. “You drive right through them, you in your fancy car, your fancy suit. You want to bring it up? I can do it too.”

Munoz later apologized to the chamber for his outburst.



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