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Red light camera bill on hold in state, Town awaits news

It looks like the state’s final verdict on red light camera usage in Tennessee’s towns and cities has entered a waiting game.
Legislators in Nashville have decided to hold a bill that would regulate the cameras in the Transportation Committee until April 1, and have asked state officials, the Tennessee Municipal League and law enforcement to come up with a “compromise bill” by then.
If passed, according to State Rep. Matthew Hill, the current bill would prohibit city and county governments from signing new contracts for a two-year period, giving the Tennessee General Assembly time to study the issue further.
Jonesborough has had its cameras in action for a little over a year, and would be one of 16 cities and towns already using red light and speed cameras that would be affected if legislators change the rules regarding the cameras.
“From the Town’s perspective, we understand it’s the state’s prerogative to regulate the cameras, and to set fees or have oversight from the comptroller’s office,” said Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe. “We simply ask that they remember that it’s our job to look after the safety of our citizens and it’s our good judgment whether cameras are appropriate for this town.”
Solving one debate over the cameras, the state’s Attorney General released an opinion last week that said the cameras are indeed constitutional.
“Some folks involved in this discussion asked the Attorney General’s opinion in the hope they’ll get a different answer,” Wolfe said.
The opinion answered some questions, but left open some areas regarding the cameras that could be changed with restrictions from the legislature, as long as they were “reasonable.”
“I’m sure there’s a happy medium between both sides of this discussion, where the safety concerns and those opposed to the cameras can agree,” Wolfe said.
The AG’s opinion said the cameras do not violate the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which says the accused can confront any witnesses against them.
“The confrontation clause embraces testimonial statements. Photographs are not testimonial statements,” the statement said.
Some opponents of the cameras claim that a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling declaring the cameras unconsitutional in that state means that they are just as unconstitutional in Tennessee. But Cooper said the ruling did not apply to Tennessee because Tennessee law is “different” because it makes drivers responsible for paying fines from the citations, and that those fines are a civil offense, not criminal.