Politics & Government

Georgia’s revised speed-trap law sets new limits on ticket revenue

WARNER ROBINS -- A revision in Georgia’s speed trap law reduced the percentage of speeding fine revenue that can fund a police or sheriff’s agency’s budget by 5 percentage points, while increasing the pool of tickets that can be used in that calculation.

The revised law went into effect July 1.

But what kind of effect the new limits on ticketing revenue may have remains to be seen. The law is designed to cut down on speed traps.

State Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, who sponsored the legislation, said the law will not greatly impact most law enforcement agencies.

“Probably 99 percent of your counties are OK under current law or the old law,” Stone said. “And the vast majority of cities are OK. The problem you run into is in the smaller towns.”

He declined to single out any.

When The Telegraph examined law enforcement agencies in Houston, Peach and Bibb counties last year, none came close to being presumed a speed trap under the law. Also, the last time any Georgia law enforcement agency got in trouble for exceeding the revenue limit by the state Department of Public Safety was 20 years ago. In 1995, the Cusseta Police Department’s radar permit was suspended for that and other violations. The city later merged with Chattahoochee County.

HOW THE LAW WORKS

A city police department or county sheriff’s office generally may be presumed to be operating radar detection devices for profit rather than for public safety when revenues collected from speeding fines exceed the agency’s annual budget by 40 percent under the old law and by 35 percent under the new law.

But there’s a loophole, though it’s been tightened.

The old law exempted tickets issued for speeds in excess of 17 miles per hour over the speed limit from the revenue calculation. The new law exempts tickets issued for speeds in excess of 20 mph over the speed limit.

Stone’s original bill was touted to remove the loophole. As initially proposed, the bill simply called for all speeding ticket revenues to be counted in the revenue calculation.

But counting all ticket revenues came under opposition, including from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. The key issue was public safety.

“That exception is in there because those are egregious speeders,” said Frank Rotondo, the agency’s executive director. “And they want to bring them into the court system, and they want them to feel, I think, the pain of the fine involved.

“And, of course, we’re getting very close to the super speeder. The state even says these are the ones who cause terrible accidents. We want you to stop them, and we’re not going to penalize you,” he said.

Georgia’s super-speeder law zaps a driver convicted of speeding at 75 mph or more on a two-lane road, or at 85 mph or more on any state road or highway, with an additional $200 fine on top of local fines and fees.

“There’s no way you can legislate it and resolve all issues that are related,” Stone said. “Any law you do is going to have a balancing aspect to it, and we don’t want to compromise public safety, but we do want to discourage speed traps.”

Stone said he doesn’t have a problem with the negotiated changes.

“It sends a message that the state government discourages local speed traps,” he said.

ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE LAW

The new law also requires local governments to show total revenues generated from speeding tickets in financial reports submitted annually to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

This revenue has not been broken out and often requires combing through financial records and speeding tickets to get it.

However, Rotondo identified two wrinkles in the law. Reporting only total speeding fine revenues does not require a breakdown of revenues that apply to the 35 percent revenue calculation. As a result, it’s still won’t be easy to determine whether an agency has exceeded the revenue limit, he said.

Also, the way governments report finances to the state are based on requirements that are generally tweaked by the state Department of Community Affairs every 10 years, Rotondo said. The last revision was two years ago, which may mean it may be a few years before governments start reporting speeding ticket revenues.

“Well, it was compromise,” Stone said. “If that becomes a problem, we can deal with it next year.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

  Comments