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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 10:32 p.m., Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Legislature repeals traffic cam program

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state House tonight voted to repeal the traffic camera enforcement program, and the photo enforcement vans could be off the roads as soon as Friday.

In a unanimous voice vote, House members approved a bill previously passed by the Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 2077, is expected to be sent to the governor following a final House vote Thursday, which is viewed as a formality.

The action was a surprising reversal from the House's previous position to modify the program to try to make it more palatable to drivers angered by the traffic cameras.

Tonight's action came on the eve of an expected court ruling tomorrow on whether the traffic camera program is on solid legal ground. Opponents have asked a judge to dismiss citations because the state can't prove that a vehicle's registered owner was operating it.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Souki, one of the staunchest supporters of the program, said the House has attempted to salvage this program because he believed it had merit but that recent legal events have "devolved" the issue.

"The latest occurrence where the judge is beginning to question and ready to rule on the legality of the method of funding the ticket and the continual public outrage that we have has led me to believe that the program at this point cannot be salvaged," said Souki, D-8th (Waiehu, Ma'laea, Napili). "And therefore, in deference to the public who has shown a great distaste for this program, I am willing to provide before this body that we repeal this program."

The repeal takes effect upon approval by Gov. Ben Cayetano, who will return Friday from a personal trip to the Mainland, spokeswoman Kim Murakawa said. Cayetano has said he supports the program. In the event he vetoes the bill, the Legislature could override it with a two-thirds vote of each house. (The Senate unanimously passed the bill.)

The traffic camera program began issuing tickets on Jan. 2. Crews in vans parked along state highways catch speeders on camera, and citations are mailed to the vehicle's registered owner.

The program issued 3,265 tickets in January, 3,686 in February and 9,837 in March.

However, judges have been routinely dismissing tickets for people who were traveling less than 10 mph over the speed limit, a practice criticized by Cayetano.

A ruling on a pivotal legal challenge may be issued tomorrow. On Monday, defense lawyers Michael Kam and Katherine Kealoha argued that the state can't identify the drivers in its traffic camera citation cases and must rely instead on a faulty "presumption" that the registered owner was operating the vehicle.

Because of the lack of evidence, a judge should dismiss charges against three vehicle owners whose upcoming trials have been consolidated and designated a test case for the traffic enforcement program, the attorneys said.

If District Judge Leslie Hayashi rules the "presumption" of driving is not enough evidence, prosecutors would have little choice but to end the prosecution of everyone else contesting a photo citation, the attorneys said.

Deputy City Prosecutor Renee Sonobe Hong said the law allows the state to "infer" a rational connection between the driver and the registered owner.

The state has said highways are safer since the program began. Major accidents dropped 14.7 percent and minor crashes dropped 10.2 percent in January compared with January 2001 in police districts where the vans were first used, Transportation Director Brian Minaai said in February. The total number of crashes went from 720 in January 2001 to 636 in January 2002.