#Coleg Notebook: Back to the war on red-light cameras

When should the cops get to take your money? After a red-light camera catches your car mid-intersection? While they’re investigating your dad’s business? Lawmakers heard lengthy and often impassioned testimony on Wednesday on two controversial government “cash cows” — traffic cameras and civil forfeiture.

Senate Judiciary Committee members considered Sen. Laura Wood’s SB 6, which seeks to curtail civil forfeiture in Colorado. An eight-year-old girl testified that law enforcement effectively snagged her piggy bank as part of a forfeiture seizure at the family’s house that totaled some $30,000.

In the House transportation committee, a man testified that he has conducted a “honk poll” on the red-light camera ban proposed by Kevin Van Winkle, R- Highlands Ranch. The man said a few cops not only honked, but also pulled over to commiserate about the loathsome cameras.

Then came the district attorneys, the sheriffs and the chiefs of police, tasked with defending the camera programs. They argued that red-light cameras and automated speed traps catch lawbreakers and provide vital intel for other cases, like hit-and-runs, of which there are an average of 17 a day in Denver.

It was the same general line on civil forfeiture, where testimony in favor argued that seizing the “ill-gotten gains” of pimps and dealers helps fund national, and sometimes international, interventions in human and drug trafficking.

“It sounds like we’re desperately trying to find funds for the failed war on drugs,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, before joining Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Loveland, in voting for the limits on civil forfeiture.

The other three members of Judiciary, Democrats and Republicans, went the other way. In many cases not because they support the war on drugs but because they want to win the war on human trafficking.

“I know some of my constituents may call me and email me and even not vote for me, but I feel good about my decision,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who voted to keep Colorado’s civil forfeiture law as-is.

The red-light camera ban made it out of committee on a bipartisan vote.

“As Democrats we’re committed to expanding the middle class. You cant do that if you’re constantly on the backs of the middle class to fund projects in slightly subversive or nefarious ways,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, who sponsored last year’s attempt at the ban. “On the Republican side I think they’re not necessarily in favor of big government and this is a way to scale that back. This is one of those rare opportunities where right and left meet for different reasons.”


In other news, this happened:

 And this:

In other other news, the live-stream audio out of the committee chambers continues to intermittently discontinue. Is it a violation of Colorado’s sunshine laws? Probably not. Is it (extremely) annoying and occasionally hilarious? Without a doubt.

[This traffic light photo is from Flickr. ]