SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House advanced a partial ban of red-light cameras in the state on Feb. 26 with strong bipartisan support, but some said the bill was a “piecemeal” approach because it does not apply in several communities.
House Bill 322, sponsored by Barrington Hills Republican Rep. David McSweeney, would prohibit non-home rule units of government from enacting or enforcing red light camera ordinances starting Jan. 1, 2021.
Home rule is a status that state law confers to any municipality with more than 25,000 residents or other municipalities that choose to adopt it by referendum. Those municipalities have greater authority to control their own local affairs.
According to the Illinois Municipal League, 217 of Illinois’ 1,298 incorporated municipalities have home rule powers.
Per state law, however, red-light cameras are currently only allowed in municipalities within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties, so opponents of the bill said only 20 municipalities that currently have red light cameras would be affected.
Non-home rule communities that have red-light cameras in operation include North Riverside, River Forest and Westchester.
McSweeney’s bill advanced amid growing opposition to the red-light camera industry as Safespeed LLC, one of the state’s main companies that supply the machines, has been the subject of ongoing federal investigative activity.
North Riverside, Berwyn and River Forest all have red-light cameras operated by SafeSpeed.
McSweeney said the measure was similar to one he passed in the House in 2015. He alleged that bill was killed in the Senate at the time by now former-Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who recently pleaded guilty to bribery and tax fraud charges and admitted in court that he viewed himself as a “protector” of red-light cameras.
McSweeney said his bill was about fighting corruption and a program that targets low-income Illinoisans.
“I am fighting hard to end the corrupt Illinois red-light camera program,” McSweeney said in a statement. “These cameras are not about safety. They are all about producing revenue and lining the pockets of political insiders. It is wrong; it is corrupt and it must stop.”
Like the 84-4 vote to advance the bill on the House floor, criticism of red-light cameras has been largely bipartisan in recent weeks.
State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, echoed that sentiment in January when she announced the state would no longer assist municipalities in collecting red light camera fines.
Among those voting in favor of the bill were state representatives LaShawn Ford (D-8th), Edgar Gonzalez Jr. (D-21st) and Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th). All three represent part of the Landmark’s coverage area.
State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-23rd), of Riverside, voted present.
But, much of the floor discussion on Feb. 26 centered on why McSweeney’s bill exempted home-rule municipalities.
“My question, ultimately, is why not wait and run a bill that actually bans them in their entirety, because what this does is a piecemeal approach,” Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican said in floor debate, adding that it could be misinterpreted as a complete ban by news consumers.
McSweeney said he would be ready to support a complete ban if the bill got as far as a floor vote, but no such measure has done so.
Rep. Diane Pappas (D-Itasca) argued the bill takes aim not at red-light cameras but smaller communities that are already restricted on what safety measures and revenue streams they can put in place.
“What we’re doing by passing this bill is not banning evil red-light cameras, we are depriving non-home rule communities of rights that home rule communities will continue to have,” she said.
Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) suggested that taking away red-light ticket revenue might cause affected municipalities to raise property taxes, but McSweeney said those communities should cut costs.
DeLuca said the red-light camera program should be reformed rather than partially banned.
“I believe you’re doing this bill to create a headline, you’re not doing this bill to solve corruption,” Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) said.
Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), however, strongly supported the measure, saying red-light cameras “have been a crux in the black and brown communities for years.”
“Red-light cameras have not helped anyone in the communities,” she said.
While only four representatives voted against the measure, five voted present and 17 did not vote on the matter. It will head to the Senate for debate in committee before it can come to a vote in the full chamber.
This story has been changed to clarify how many communities would be affected by the legislation should it become law.