Stop and Go politics

City certifies red light camera petition, but a vote is still uncertain

City certifies red light camera petition, but a vote is still uncertain

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Photo by Barbara Kuntz

Opponents of Houston's red light cameras should send a nice gift basket and possibly a spa certificate to city secretary Anna Russell.

In just over two weeks, Russell and her staff have accomplished a Herculean task, certifying 22,000 signatures on the petition to ban red light cameras from Houston just before the deadline for ballot initiatives to be voted on by the city council at their meeting this afternoon.

"This is a great day for Houston," Michael Kubosh, a leader behind Citizens Against Red Light Cameras, told the Houston Chronicle. "People just need a right to vote, that's all we're saying. Now the citizens will have a chance to decide."

But getting the issue before voters in November is far from certain. Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee supporting the cameras, have previously expressed their will to keep the issue off the ballot in November via the court system if the city council were to approve the initiative.

"We've got two key legal issues here and if the city was to bow to political pressure to go against that, we would take action," Keep Houston Safe spokesman Jim McGrath told CultureMap.

KHS claims that the ban qualifies as a referendum election to ban or repeal a city ordinance, which according to law must have petitions completed within 30 days of enacting that law. Since the red light cameras have been in operation since 2006, McGrath says that to bring it forward now would constitute an illegal referendum.

The issue is sure to get heated well before (and perhaps through) November. The city has collected a total of $43 million in fines from the cameras since 2007, and no red light camera system has ever survived a public vote.

Update: The city council has voted to approve the red light camera ban charter amendment for voter ballots in November. Though several council members support the cameras, at Mayor Annise Parker's urging the vote was nearly unanimous to allow Houstonians the right to a vote.