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Unanimous Ohio Supreme Court rules state can withhold money from cities using traffic cameras

Motorists drive past a sign warning of upcoming traffic cameras in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak

The Ohio Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a law that allows the state to cut funding to communities using traffic cameras, by the amount of money they raise from those devices.

Cities have raised millions from camera programs, though many have abandoned them because of state restrictions. A provision in the budget approved in 2019 allowed the state to deduct, dollar for dollar, from local government funds any amount raised by cities from red light camera fines.

In arguments before the court in February, Steven Carney with the Ohio Attorney General’s office said cities can still run red light or speed cameras even if the state reduces their funding by the total of the fines they bring in.

“There’s no intersection here. We keep spending over here. They keep doing traffic tickets over there. We’re on parallel roads. There’s no red light here because we don’t intersect," Carney said.

East Cleveland’s law director Willa Hemmons argued that her city’s residents voted for cameras, and they pay state taxes.

“The state has very paternalistically decided that it is the state’s money. It’s not the state’s money, it’s the people’s money. East Clevelanders pay taxes and they also have a right to ‘home rule’," Hemmons said.

In the unanimous opinion, Justice Sharon Kennedy struck down the claims of home rule violation by East Cleveland and Newburgh Heights.

She also wrote: "the Ohio Constitution does not require the General Assembly to appropriate any funds to municipalities, and it does not create a specific right for a municipality to receive local-government funds from the state. The General Assembly therefore has exclusive discretion to reduce the appropriation of local-government funds to a municipality in the amount that the municipality has collected in fines from citations issued based on the operation of traffic cameras."

The battle over traffic cameras has raged in Columbus for years, with the Ohio Supreme Court settling disputes between state legislators and communities with camera programs.

In 2017, the court sided with cities that argued a 2014 law requiring police officers to be stationed with cameras violated their "home rule" powers. In 2018 the court upheld the funding cuts to cities that weren't complying with a 2015 law on cameras. But part of that law was found unconstitutional.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.