CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois House has overwhelmingly approved legislation to ban red light cameras in nearly half of the communities where they now operate in the state, amid a widening federal corruption probe that already has exposed instances of bribery in the red light camera industry.
The House voted 84-4 on Wednesday in favor of a proposal to ban the cameras in non-home rule municipalities in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will counties – the eight counties where the cameras currently are allowed. Non-home rule communities are typically towns and cities with populations less than 25,000.
Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) said the legislation would eliminate approximately 45% of the existing red light cameras in Illinois.
McSweeney said he sponsored similar legislation passed by the House in 2015, but it was blocked in the Senate by former Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), who resigned last year.
Sandoval has pleaded guilty to taking $70,000 in bribes in exchange for acting as a “protector” for red light camera company SafeSpeed. Sandoval admitted using his position as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee to block legislation that would have harmed the red light camera industry.
Patrick Doherty, a high-ranking Cook County official, also has been swept up in the ongoing federal probe of the red light camera industry, accused of conspiring to pay bribes to a relative of an Oak Lawn village trustee in order to install new red light cameras in the southwest suburb.
Doherty has pleaded not guilty.
McSweeney said the red light camera industry is clearly “corrupt” and he said banning the cameras in non-home rule communities would be “a great first step toward addressing corruption.”
“This is a bill that is so dangerous to the red light camera companies that they have filled up the room with lobbyists,” he said. “This is a corrupt program, this is a good first step.”
Some fellow lawmakers questioned why McSweeney’s proposal does not ban red light cameras throughout the entire state. He said he and other lawmakers have drafted such bans, but they have been stuck in committee.
“I oppose all red light cameras. I have a bill that would ban all red light cameras. One of my colleagues here has a bill. I would support that bill. There’s a senator who has a bill to do that, but this is the bill that we have on the floor today. This is the bill that I’m calling,” McSweeney said.
McSweeney said he believes red light cameras are about nothing more than collecting revenue, and hit low-income people hardest.
“I think this is the most regressive tax we have in the state of Illinois,” he said.
Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) criticized the legislation, saying it would effectively force small towns and cities that rely on red light cameras for revenue to raise property taxes.
“These home rule communities, once these cameras are banned, will result in a property tax increase,” he said.
McSweeney rejected that argument.
“I don’t accept that at all. I think this is being used for a permanent revenue source to hurt low-income people, will have to have to just cut spending,” he said.
Rep. Diane Pappas (D-Itasca) said the proposed ban is more about taking away local control from non-home rule governments.
“What we’re doing by passing this bill is not banning evil red light cameras. We are depriving non-home rule communities of rights that home rule communities will continue to have,” she said.
The measure now goes to the Illinois Senate.