Red-light Camera Industry

Legislature Approves Bill to Tighten Restrictions on Red-light Camera Industry

The red-light and speed camera industry’s ability to influence state and local elections and governance would now be subject to new restrictions, according to a resolution passed by lawmakers in Springfield.

House Bill 3903 prohibits contributions to state and local candidates for public office from automatic traffic enforcement companies or their employees. It would also prevent state and local government officials from accepting jobs or contracts with those companies while in office or for two years after leaving office, a kind of “revolving door” ban.

Sponsors praised the bill as a necessary ethics reform after several public officials were exposed by federal investigators in the last ten years for engaging in bribery and kickback schemes involving red-light camera companies.

“What this does is it tightens up the ethics surrounding the red-light camera corruption and scandals,” During the May 25 House debate, Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) said.

Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis), called the two-year revolving door ban “a good step.”

On May 25, HB 3909 was unanimously approved by the House after also receiving a unanimous vote in the Senate the week before.

Additionally, under certain conditions, such as when a public official is accused of bribery, the bill would give the Illinois Department of Transportation new authority to review and approve or revoke approval for automated traffic enforcement systems.

Additionally, as part of the measure, local governments would have to review the safety effects of automated enforcement systems every two years. Additionally, local governments would no longer be able to delegate the decision to issue tickets to the companies they have contracts with for red-light and speed cameras. Instead, they would have the sole authority to make that decision.

Bribes in the Legislature, Local Government

During debate on the bill at the Capitol, references were made to the recent indictments and convictions of public officials involved in bribery schemes with automated traffic enforcement companies.

“We’ve had issues with this and I think the bill is a great first step,” Republican senator from Quincy named Jil Tracy is also a member of the ethics committee for the legislature.

In the past four years, Tracy has witnessed the indictments of two of her senatorial colleagues.

Back in September of last year, Sen. The former co-owner of the red-light camera firm SafeSpeed LLC, Omar Maani, who was at the time cooperating with federal prosecutors as part of his own deal with the feds, is alleged to have orchestrated a scheme that Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) was charged with bribery for. For $5,000 and a position for his associate, Jones allegedly agreed to shield SafeSpeed from a statewide investigation into red-light camera systems.

Jones has maintained his Senate seat and entered a not-guilty plea. Last week, he cast a vote in favor of HB 3903.

In 2020, the late Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), whose district included parts of the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, also admitted to accepting bribes from Maani and filing false tax returns. Later that year, while he was awaiting sentencing, Sandoval passed away as a result of complications from COVID-19.

“The public deserves to have the utmost trust in their government and their law enforcement,” bill sponsor Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines made the statement in a press release. “We must guarantee honesty and accountability at all levels.”

Along with the chief of staff to former Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, who has already admitted guilt on unrelated charges, two former suburban Chicago mayors have also admitted guilt on charges involving bribes or kickbacks from Maani.

John Bills, a former assistant transportation commissioner for the city of Chicago, was found guilty in 2016 of accepting expensive gifts and $600,000 in return for persuading the government to award contracts to the Redflex red-light camera company.

Bills was given a 10-year prison term, the longest one yet imposed on an Illinois official involved with a red-light camera business. His transition to a halfway house is documented in federal prison records.

A First Step?

There is pressure on the General Assembly to pass ethics reforms in response to federal investigations that go beyond those involving red light camera companies. Three former lobbyists and the former CEO of Commonwealth Edison were found guilty earlier this month of orchestrating a bribery scheme to gain the favor of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was indicted on associated corruption and racketeering charges last year.

Former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn made an appearance in Springfield to call for a special legislative session to consider ethics reform, noting that the ComEd verdict revealed a “grievous breach of public trust.”

“If you take a look at the indictments that have been made that are going to be tried next year, the allegations include violations of conflict of interest,” Quinn said. “Simply put, that is wrong. The fact that lawmakers vote on legislation in which they have a financial interest is wrong for every taxpayer in Illinois.”

An idea that was controversial even when the General Assembly passed a six-month ban on lawmakers leaving for lobbying jobs in 2021, Ryan Tolley, the policy director for the government reform organization CHANGE Illinois, noted that HB 3909 marks the first time the legislature has enacted a two-year revolving door ban.

“Hopefully this can be a first step moving forward,” In a conversation, Tolley said.

Tolley stated that he thinks that additional measures are required for ethics reform, such as giving the Legislative Inspector General, the top ethics official of the General Assembly, more autonomy to look into potential wrongdoing.

Former LIG Carol Pope cited her lack of power to conduct investigations or impose sanctions as a reason for her 2021 resignation, calling the office a “paper tiger.”

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Source: rblandmark

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