The Illinois House last week put a scare into officials of the state’s non-home rule communities — that’s any municipality smaller than 25,000 people — which have red-light cameras.
That’s because the House voted overwhelmingly, 79 to 26 (four representatives voted present), to eliminate the controversial devices at intersections in the state’s small villages and towns, potentially depriving them of hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenues.
“I think everybody was surprised how fast it got through and by such a large vote,” said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., whose village has two red-light cameras at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road. “It would be my hope that this doesn’t go further [in the Senate] because it would be devastating to non-home rule communities.”
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) flew through committee and made it to the House floor, where it passed easily in a vote on April 22.
It will now head to the Senate, but the bill’s sponsor there, Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), says he’s not sure the legislation has much of a chance.
“I’m hearing that [Senate President John] Cullerton is not going to let it be called for a vote,” said Duffy. “It’s frustrating and upsetting that the people’s voice is being stifled in Springfield.”
Outside of local officials who depend on revenue that red-light cameras bring in to help balance their annual budgets, the cameras are reviled by motorists who see them simply as a way for municipalities to reach into their wallets.
North Riverside installed one red-light camera at Harlem and Cermak on May 1, 2014 and another in January. The revenue collected from camera violations is expected to pay the entire $1.1 million contribution the village owes to its police pension fund for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ends April 30.
“For the first time in many years we’re able to fund our police pension 100 percent,’ said Hermanek. “Then bills like this come up, and it makes it more difficult and discouraging.”
The overwhelming number of violations issued with the aid of the cameras comes from those who don’t completely stop at a red light prior to turning right. The Chicago Tribune in 2014 ran a series of articles on the city of Chicago’s red-light camera program, including a study that showed the cameras didn’t reduce accidents, that yellow lights were too short, and the city didn’t follow rules regarding notifying red-light violators.
But the legislation last week wouldn’t touch Chicago’s red-light system, just those of small towns who say they are paying the price for the sins of Chicago. McSweeney reportedly wanted a statewide ban on red-light cameras, but the Illinois constitution would have required a three-fifths majority to ban red-light cameras in home rule communities.
Hermanek said it would be unfair to penalize non-home rule communities by taking away red-light cameras, while home rule communities could continue to have them. At the Harlem/Cermak intersection, for example, North Riverside would have to forego its two cameras on the west side of Harlem Avenue while Berwyn — a home rule community of 55,000 people — would be able to retain its camera on the east side.
“You have one home rule and one non-home rule,” said Hermanek. “How do you let one exist and not let the other exist?”
That was the reason state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) chose to be one of the 26 votes against McSweeney’s bill.
“It puts [General Assembly] members in the dubious position of giving some constituents relief and some no relief,” Zalewski said. “Either we’re going to have them or we’re not going to have them.”
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), whose 8th District includes all of North Riverside, also voted against the bill. Ford said he was not against red-light cameras per se. His problem was with the way the city of Chicago administered its program.
However, he said, if there was a groundswell of voices out of North Riverside calling for the elimination of red-light cameras, he’d consider voting for their elimination.
“I definitely want to hear from the constituent base,” Ford said. “If they urged me to support the measure, it would’ve been easy to do.”
State Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-Cicero), who represents parts of Riverside and Brookfield, voted to eliminate the red-light cameras, while Rep. Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), who represents Riverside south of the BNSF tracks, voted present.
If the bill is to advance through the Illinois Senate, its first stop would be in the Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), whose district includes Riverside.
Sandoval did not respond to a phone call from the Landmark seeking comment.