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Florida Supreme Court rules against red light cameras in two cities

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Florida drivers caught on camera running red lights before 2010 could qualify for refunds on their tickets under a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court invalidated early efforts by two Florida cities to create red-light ticket ordinances. It does not affect tickets issued since a state law establishing standards for the traffic cameras took effect on July 1, 2010.

Controversy is growing over the use of automated cameras to fine drivers who enter an intersection on a red light. Critics say red-light cameras are more of a revenue-generating gimmick for local governments than effective tools for public safety.

The Florida Legislature this spring considered banning red-light programs, but a bill failed to pass. Local governments have been hotly debating their use.

The 5-2 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court focused on two red-light programs established from 2008 to 2010, before state rules were in place, in Orlando and Aventura, located north of Miami.

“The Orlando and Aventura ordinances are invalid because they are expressly pre-empted by state law,” wrote Justice Charles Canady.

The decision settled conflicting lower court rulings, one against Orlando's ordinance and another upholding a fine levied by Aventura.

Justice Barbara Pariente dissented, saying home-rule authority permitted camera operation.

It is unknown how many other communities had set up camera systems before 2010 under their home-rule powers to set municipal traffic codes.

   In 2013, 77 governments in Florida used red-light cameras, according to a state analysis of the failed legislation to ban them.

The potential cost of the ruling would depend on how many drivers seek refunds.

Under current state law, cities get $75 and the state gets $83 from each camera-generated ticket, according to the legislative analysis.

   The Florida League of Cities, which has argued the cameras improve public safety, said its attorneys were studying the high court’s ruling.

Under current law, the cameras capture license tags, which are matched with state records so a citation can be mailed to vehicle owners, who can fight the ticket in court.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)

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