Everything that’s wrong with the SC Legislature

Boys and girls, gather ’round, because you seldom see such a perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with the South Carolina Legislature.

Did you see this?

State lawmakers said Wednesday that they think the Jasper County town of Ridgeland has broken state law by using automated cameras to issue more than 8,000 tickets to speeders on Interstate 95 since August.

A state Senate subcommittee gave its approval to a bill to ban the cameras, technology that town officials say has cut down on highway deaths and reduced the risk to police officers. But senators argued the cameras could violate the rights of drivers.

The hearing was at times tense, with lawmakers raising their voices in disagreement as Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges defended his town’s use of the cameras.

In that one thing — lawmakers’ rush to stop this local government from doing something perfectly sensible (local governments doing sensible things just absolutely sets SC lawmakers’ teeth on edge; it’s like fingernails scraping on a blackboard to them) — you see the following fundamental dysfunctions on display:

  • Their penchant for advancing ideology over all, especially when it trumps common sense.
  • Their preference for spending time and energy on these obsessions rather than on anything having to do with the betterment of our state.
  • Their utter hypocrisy — seeing as how this is just the kind of money-saving efficiency in governmental function that they say they value.
  • Their allergy to anything that might actually reduce shortfalls in state revenue, especially if it would do so painlessly and without hurting our economy. (Look how long it took them to pass that halfway measure of a cigarette-tax increase.)
  • Their utter hatred of local governments, especially when they take the initiative to better serve their communities. If the State House were on fire, lawmakers would refuse to evacuate if it meant missing a chance to take action to further oppress and frustrate local governments. They see it as their highest purpose, apparently.

Oh, but you’ll say, they were standing up for “freedom.” Really? The freedom to do what, precisely? Speed on the highway? (And note, this system doesn’t do anything unless they’re going at least 81 mph.) This invocation of freedom is even less persuasive than when they kept rejecting a seatbelt law because of our God-given right to fly through a windshield. One could almost make an argument for that, but there is no way anyone can mount a credible argument that we have a right to break speeding laws.

I did appreciate that they made an effort to mount a justification. And maybe there were others that didn’t make it into this story. But this one did make it: “Those ticketed may not have a chance to gather evidence — GPS data showing their speed, for instance — to defend themselves if they do not learn of the ticket until it arrives in the mail.” That sounds very… lawyerly. Which is familiar. We often see lawmakers carrying water for those who defend folks who break the law (which in some cases means they are carrying water for themselves.

There was also mention of the “problem” that “tickets are issued only if a speeding vehicle is registered to one owner,” which “exempts commercial, state and fleet vehicles from enforcement.” Perhaps there was more to it than that. I hope so, because that is NOT an objection to this method. I don’t see what stops the cop from stopping the commercial vehicles the old-fashioned way. And yes, there’s a cop present. This camera deal just enables him to enforce the law without the wasteful (and often dangerous) ritual of physically chasing the speeder down.

Yes, I know about how some of y’all object to CCTV and the like. But I ask you, exactly what do you think is private, what do you think is outside the legitimate public interest, about driving down the public highway in a hurtling piece of machinery? It’s hard to imagine a more public activity or venue, or one less entitled to privacy protection — even if you do believe in the unlikely SCOTUS proposition that there is a “right to privacy” in the Constitution? This isn’t a camera in your bathroom, folks. It’s on the road — a place where, if you’re doing something you don’t want others to see, you’re definitely in the wrong place.

Now, personally, I can think of an objection to this system that makes some sense: If the speeder is unaware that he’s being caught, he’s unlikely to slow down. At least, that day. So some of the deterrent effect of enforcement is undermined. But I didn’t see that reason cited in the coverage. Maybe they made that argument. If they didn’t make that one, or one equally relevant, then this was exactly what I thought it was when I read about it this morning: Another example of the S.C. Legislature’s cultural aversion to common sense and good government.

18 thoughts on “Everything that’s wrong with the SC Legislature

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Professor Fenner heartily agreed with you.

    The best argument I, an inactive lawyer, can come up with for the “rights” thing, is that it might be possible that they have the wrong car…the car next to you, maybe? Dunno.

  2. Greg

    Doesn’t the state get a large portion of the fine from every ticket, even by the municipalites?
    Hasn’t the legislature so underfunded the Highway Patrol that they cannot patrol I-95 sufficiently? (I live in this area. If I understand correctly some nights we have 1 patrolman for multiple counties.)
    How many people have died because of unchecked speeding?
    Do any of these questions make sense? If they do, then the legislature is not making any sense. Take your pick.

  3. Norm Ivey

    I carry my daughter back and forth to SCAD down I-95. The area is clearly marked with highway signs telling you that speed laws are enforced with radar and cameras. The camera is obvious. It sits beneath an overpass with a large white van parked next to it.

  4. holder

    Liberty is used as euphamism for priviledge, it’s continuation of the entitlements (let me guess) old white men and women are due. If I pay I play with my own rules…until someone speeds through a red light, hits and kills their grand baby! Then they want to see the rule of law applied, because as I heard a woman whine “It’s all about me and mine…” Ya’ll know the rest.

  5. bud

    While I agree in principal that enforcing the law via cameras is a good safety measure there do seem to be some legitimate concerns here. As noted by Katherine is it possible to ticket the wrong car. Are there safeguards to prevent that? Also, I find it highly offensive when overly hyperbolic statements like this are made:

    State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, has introduced a bill to allow the cameras.

    “I would much rather see a traffic camera than a body bag in Ridgeland.”

    If there has been a serious problem with traffic deaths on this stretch of highway the Ridgeland PD should produce the evidence. Otherwise this does come across as a speed trap. If they have the evidence then I say go for it.

  6. Herb Brasher

    As I mentioned in a thread below, this is ridiculous. Is it a reaction to the fact that this has been commonplace in Europe for decades–in other words, ‘we have to prove that we are not like them liberals over there?’

    Likely some posturing here to win votes among their consitutuencies. We all know that too many people in this state are buying into the ‘big bad government’ line.

  7. Jim Duffy

    Why is it a surprise that the State Legislature took issue with a local matter. Their power is enabled by the State Constitution that is established as a two legged stool, negating any real authority to the Governor. The Legislature has always injected itself in the activities of all localities and political sub-divisions in the State. They enjoy the power. At the same time the State is overwhelmed with a financial shortfall individual members find a reason not to cut the expenditures of a specific agency they favor. With that mindset there is no way to effectively curtail expenditures and put the State on a solid financial basis. Each State Legislator should be required, or volunteer, a list of what they would remove from expenditures until they cover the annual, in recent years, amount of the shortage. In this manner the tax payers would be able to understand why there are cuts and layoffs. Everything cannot be sacrosanct and above the consideration ofbeing reduced. Let the Legislators be all in and tell what they consider is “cutable”.

  8. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ Herb Brasher– Paul Krugman’s NYT piece today about the Republicans’ “own private Europe” reminded me of the quip on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me– that opponents of health care reform keep trying to scare us that “we will end up like (wooo) Canada”–he said, “Have they ever been there–it’s f%^&ing awesome!”

    and I love holder’s comment that to these people “liberty” is just a euphemism for “privilege.” True!

  9. bud

    Tell me Jim, why is it necessary to cut anything? Just run a deficit for a couple of years then raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.

  10. bud

    According to news reports the nation’s GDP grew at an encouraging 3.2% in the last quarter. Still not a great number but what caught my attention was the fact that the government sector actually shrank. It appears that all this budget balancing that the state’s are engaged in is slowing the recovery. What’s worse it appears that the federal government is getting into the act with proposals by the President to freeze government spending and eliminate pay raises for federal employees. What is going on here? How can we get out of this mess by taking money away from people who help fuel the recovery. We can worry about deficits later once we begin to approach full employment. In fact if we get down to about 5% unemployment the problem largely solves itself anyway.

  11. Bart

    The use of cameras to catch speeders is nothing new to many communities in America. About 25 years ago, I was driving with a friend in a Northeast city and he warned me about watching my speed. They had traffic cameras and radar that recorded speeds and took photos of license plates. He was a recipient of a photo of his vehicle’s license plate, speed at the time, and a citation with appropriate fines and costs. I am surprised it has not been adopted and used on state and federal highway systems almost exclusively.

    I am a firm believer in privacy rights. When I am in my home, behind closed doors (sorry Charlie Rich), what I do is my business. However, and it is a huge however, when I leave home and take to the public streets and highways, then, my behavior becomes a matter of public interest and concern. My driving habits affects every other driver on the highway when I am driving. If I am an habitual speeder or careless driver, and a camera is used to record events at an intersection or on a particular stretch of highway, then it is up to me to change my driving habits or use another route.

    Is there a possibility of making a mistake and sending a ticket to the wrong person? Absolutely! and one can safely wager it has happened and will happen again. Based on first person experience, it is possible for radar to pick up the wrong vehicle and ticket the driver. I was able to prove the mistake but it still cost a lot of time and money.

    I would imagine most on this blog have never lost a family member because of actions by irresponsible drivers. After losing a brother and a nephew plus a couple of friends in traffic accidents, and having a few close calls myself, anything that can assist in reducing traffic related injuries and deaths is a good thing.

    As long as cameras are used strictly for traffic and criminal apprehension in a responsible manner, they should be a welcome tool.

  12. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Yes, Bart! Well-said.

    We were in Chicago the summer before last for 5 weeks. We had to learn totally different driving habits from when we lived there before, and from living around her, such as stopping for yellow lights and not blocking the intersections. When we moved back here, I cautioned my husband to always do a visual check on the cross traffic before proceeding on a new green. He said it saved him from several crunchers in the first several weeks!

    Red light cameras and speeding cameras are a great idea!

  13. Herb Brasher

    Bart, I agree. Apparently there have been some studies done on red-light cameras that show that the yellow light needs to be altered to last 1.5 seconds longer in order to avoid an increase in rear-end collisions. But of course we are talking about speeding tickets here.

    A friend of mine went 30 km. over the speed limit between two villages in Switzerland. He thought he could speed up to 80, since he was out of town, but he missed the speed limit sign that kept it as 50 km. The ticket caught up with him when he got home to Germany.

    The fine? 800 Swiss Franks, and that was 20 years ago. That was more than he made in one month, so he complained and got it lowered to 500 franks. That’s still a lot of money.

    Then there was the German Porsche owner who decided to let it roll on the Swiss autobahn, and topped 260 km/h. He ended up in prison for awhile. One doesn’t mess with the Swiss. They’ve long had pretty tough restrictions on cell phone use while driving. One can always tell when a Swiss driver gets a cell phone call–all of a sudden they pull off the road.

  14. Amanda Lamb

    The only problem i have with cameras used to issue tickets is it all depends on the people that review them. I received a ticket for speeding in Washington DC, I’ve never been to DC. The car in the ticket was a truck I drive a tiny two door metro, and after going online to see a better copy of the picture noticed they had miss read the tag it wasn’t even my number. There are down falls to the camera system, but proper review by an actual person can fix those.

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