NMA E-Newsletter #247: How One Articulate Voice Can Sway Government

Earlier this year, Michigan Representative Wayne Schmidt (with support from a few fellow representatives) introduced two bills to the State Assembly, each designed to pave the way for automated ticketing machines, aka red-light and speed cameras. Michigan currently is one of fifteen states that ban the use of photo enforcement*. The camera companies are keenly interested in finding new territories where they can tap into motorists’ wallets.

Ann Arbor resident and lifetime NMA Member Jim Walker would have none of that. Jim is an old-fashioned triple-threat guy—writing letters/posting comments online, granting media interviews, and providing expert testimony to legislative committees to advocate on behalf of his fellow drivers.

When Schmidt’s bills became public, Jim sprang into action on all three fronts to keep ticket cameras out. He developed specific arguments about how the cameras would harm traffic safety, good government, and the civil rights of Michigan citizens.

Jim testified in opposition to the camera bills at two legislative hearings, and was joined in opposition by the ACLU, The Police Officers Association of Michigan, a judges’ representative, The Campaign for Liberty, and others.

His efforts came to fruition when he wrote a detailed letter to Ruth Johnson, the Secretary of State for Michigan, raising the same concerns. He concluded the September 6, 2013 letter with the following:

I’m sure you can appreciate the potential injustices, administrative problems, and risks of corruption inherent in this program.

I was the National Motorists Association representative who spoke against the bills at the two [Michigan State Assembly] hearings. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have about automated citations, or meet with your staff to discuss this bill . . .

I hope that Michigan motorists can count on the Department of State to oppose this bill.

The response he received about three weeks later excited the normally low-key Mr. Walker. It not only proved the merits of his arguments, but also that government officials listened, understood, and agreed.

The following is the full text of a September 25, 2013 letter to Jim from David Richmond with the Office of Government Affairs within the Michigan Department of State:

Dear Mr. Walker,

Thank you for contacting Secretary of State Ruth Johnson with your concerns regarding House Bills 4762 and 4763, which seek to permit the use of red light cameras. The Secretary asked that I respond on her behalf.

The Michigan Vehicle Code is the current state law that governs the operation and movement of vehicles on Michigan roads. As you are aware, current statute prohibits the use of any automated traffic control devices to issue citations. Representative Wayne Schmidt, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee originally introduced these bills, and has conducted several hearings in order to take testimony on the proposals. I have been in attendance during the committee hearings, and have found your comments compelling, and clearly articulated. Many of the facts that you present in your letter are legitimate concerns shared by this department.

In a media report earlier this month, Representative Schmidt indicated that he is no longer interested in moving the red light camera bills. He was quoted (sic) as stating that he, “. . . has chosen not to move the red light authorization bill forward because of concerns he says he now has about traffic cameras and privacy issues.” It would appear that the testimony offered before the committee has helped Representative Schmidt to reconsider his position.

I congratulate you for your efforts and your participation in the legislative process, and I hope that you will continue to offer your expertise on traffic safety issues as they [are] considered by committee. Please rest assured the department will continue to monitor the status of both of these bills throughout the remainder of this legislative term.

Thank you again for contacting the Michigan Department of State.

Jim Walker has proven that one well-articulated and well-placed argument can change the legislative and bureaucratic landscape.

*Other states that ban automated ticketing are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note: With assistance from a NMA Community Support Program (CSP) grant, Member Helwig Van Der Grinten produced a five-minute video titled “Yellow Light Roulette” about how the odds are stacked against drivers approaching red-light camera intersections with short yellow lights. You can view his video here. Several other requests for CSP grants are currently under consideration. A link to the online CSP grant application form can be found here. That link is now available to supporting members in the Members Area of the NMA website as the first item under “Member Resources.”  We encourage eligible members and donors to take advantage of CSP grants if there are local motorist advocacy programs that need to be tackled.  We will report periodically on the progress of CSP-approved projects.

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