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Washington Supreme Court deals blow to Tim Eyman’s campaign against red light cameras

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on March 8, 2012 at 10:39 am |
March 8, 2012 2:53 pm

The case decided today comes out of Tim Eyman‘s hometown of Mukilteo and relates to his effort to get an initiative on the local ballot against red-light camera programs.

Eyman gathered enough signatures but the council there turned the vote into an advisory ballot. After it was approved with more than 70 percent of the vote, the council acted to repeal the camera program. Eyman has since expanded his campaign to other cities.

The programs generally contract with private businesses that install the camera systems and share the fines with the local government. City police officials review images and video to determine whether citations are issued. Those cited are given a means of appealing the citation.

But in a case called Mukilteo Citizens For Simpler Government vs. City of Mukilteo, a 5-4 court majority says such camera ordinances are not subject to local initiative powers. That is, since the Legislature authorized city councils to adopt red-light camera ordinances, that authority is exclusive to the elected body and is not subject to repeal by voters.

Wrote Justice Barbara Madsen for a 5-4 court majority: “… the legislature granted to local legislative bodies the exclusive power to legislate on the subject of the use and operation of automated traffic safety cameras: “The use of automated traffic safety cameras for issuance of notices of infraction is subject to the following requirements: (a) The appropriate local legislative authority must first enact an ordinance allowing for their use.” Also, automated traffic safety cameras may be used during the 2009-2011 fiscal biennium ” if the local legislative authority first enacts an ordinance authorizing the use.

“The legislature’s grant of authority does not extend to the electorate.”

Madsen based her conclusion on a 2006 court decision called Sequim vs. Malkasian that stated: “An initiative is beyond the scope of the initiative power if the initiative involves powers granted by the legislature to the governing body of a city, rather than the city itself.

“[A] grant of power to the city’s” legislative authority or legislative body “means exclusively the mayor and city council and not the electorate.”

The dissent, written by Justice James Johnson, argues the because the ordinance has been repealed, the issue is moot and therefore not a valid issue for the court’s action.

Eyman issued a statement Thursday, vowing to continue to fight “obnoxious cameras using state and local initiatives and lobbying the legislature until they’re gone once and for all.

“This narrow ruling has to do with local initiatives — numerous rulings by the High Court have rejected these same kinds of attacks on state
initiatives. But at the local level, the initiative power is severely hampered by the Legislature, local politicians, and on this issue, red-light
camera companies who know the citizens reject their product.

“Here we have the government and the courts saying, ‘You’re not allowed to vote on this issue.’ So it’s pretty clear that they do not like the idea of voters having a chance to vote on this – because they vote against it every time.”

City of Tacoma lawyers, which analyzed the ruling at The News Tribune’s request, said it applies to code cities like Mukilteo and charter cities like Tacoma alike. The state law that grants local legislative bodies the exclusive power to legislate on the use and operation of traffic cameras draws no distinction between charter and noncharter cities, according to the city’s legal department.

In Tacoma’s case, the ruling doesn’t change much. That city’s charter has never permitted citizens to legislate in areas reserved for the City Council by the state Legislature.

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