Heavy Lobbying Keeps Red Light Cameras On Track

Up to now, the Connecticut General Assembly has never approved any of the bills offered in recent years that would enable cities and towns to install cameras at red lights and collect fines by mailing tickets to violators.

But this year's bill — which would authorize red light cameras in 13 municipalities with populations of 60,000 or more, and would fine motorists at least $124 per ticket — has made a steady advance, winning two legislative committees' approval so far.

Moreover, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would be inclined to sign the bill if the House and the Senate pass it, a gubernatorial spokeswoman said Friday.

The progress up to now has convinced the bill's backers. including two Arizona companies that deal in electronic traffic enforcement systems, that it is worth their while to spend tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to persuade lawmakers to push it through by the end of the legislative session June 8.

Lobbying reports filed with the Office of State Ethics reveal a lineup of lobbying talent that has grown since the bill gained preliminary approval March 18 from the legislature's transportation committee. One of the most recent enlistees is lawyer-lobbyist and power broker Thomas Ritter, the former Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Ritter is only part of an experienced group of Capitol operatives whose political affiliations cover both sides of the aisle in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate. They include:

•P.J. Cimini, longtime Capitol lobbyist and lawyer from the Hartford government relations firm Capitol Strategies Group LLC. The firm, which also includes former Democratic West Hartford Councilman Patrick McCabe, was retained in January for $5,000 a month including sales tax, or an anticipated $60,000 in 2011, by American Traffic Solutions Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. The company describes itself as "a leading provider of technology and business solutions for road safety camera and electronic toll enforcement programs worldwide."

•Rachael Phinney, Layla D'Emelia and Daniel Connelly of the Boston law and government relations firm Serlin Haley, whose website touts its "legislative practice affecting and challenging issues in the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives." For its efforts in Connecticut, the firm reported that it anticipates being paid $24,000 to represent Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Ariz., through June. Redflex calls itself "the longest consistently-operating company in the growing U.S. road safety camera industry … partnering with cities on programs to make an impact on dangerous driving behaviors like red light running and speeding."

•Ritter, Franklin Perry and Tracy Persico of the Hartford office of the law and government relations firm Brown Rudnick. They registered as lobbyists for American Traffic Solutions on March 22, four days after the legislature's transportation committee voted its approval of the red light camera bill. Brown Rudnick is to be paid an anticipated $30,000 from March to June, its lobbying report said. Current House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk, is also a partner at Brown Rudnick's Hartford office, although he practices as a lawyer there, not a lobbyist. The lobbyist Perry was best man at the wedding last year of Ritter's son, Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, who voted for the bill in the legislative planning and development committee last Monday.

•Jim O'Brien, of the Farmington lobbying firm J. O'Brien & Associates, who registered March 20 as a lobbyist for American Traffic Solutions. O'Brien, a former Republican West Hartford councilman who also served as an aide in the office of former Gov. John G. Rowland. reported he would be paid $2,500 a month between March and the end of February 2012, for an anticipated $30,000.

•Linda Kowalski, of the Hartford-based Kowalski Group, who registered to lobby for Redflex as a subcontractor paid by the Serlin Haley firm. Her lobbying will extend from March 18, the day the transportation committee approved the bill, through June 30 at the rate of $3,000 a month, for an anticipated total of $12,000. Kowalski, a well-known Capitol lobbyist for years, was a political insider with Republicans during the Rowland administration. Kowalski's firm is paying $350 a month to her own subcontractor on the project, lobbyist David Boomer, a longtime GOP operative in Connecticut, her lobbying report says.

Two other prominent lobbyists represent non-corporate advocates of the camera enforcement bill. They are:

•Chris DePino, former chairman of the state Republican Party, whose New Haven firm, DePino Associates LLC, is registered to lobby for the city of New Haven on various matters, including the city's strong push for red light camera enforcement after pedestrian and motorist fatalities in recent years. DePino Associates is to receive $4,166 a month, or $25,000 for the six-month legislative session this year, his lobbying report says.

•Carroll Hughes and Josh Hughes, of Hughes & Cronin Public Affairs Strategies in Middletown. A recently filed report says the firm is being paid $31,000 a year in 2011 and 2012 by the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association to lobby on various issues including the chiefs' support for the red light camera bill.

The arguments for and against the bill have not changed much, or at all, since past years in which it has failed. Safety advocates, particularly a well-organized group of officials and citizens from New Haven, say the cameras are needed to prevent the deaths of both drivers and pedestrians at intersections. Civil libertarians worry about the erosion of citizens' privacy under the electronic eye of Big Brother, and the potential for rear-end accidents caused by sudden braking as a light turns red.

Some critics say fiscally strapped cities will take advantage of the cameras to raise revenue in the name of safety. The proposed fine of at least $124 per camera-generated ticket is more than twice as high as the $50 fine that New York City levies in its long-established camera enforcement program. Towns would get 70 percent of the fines, and the state 30 percent.

As with New York's program, tickets under the Connecticut proposal would count as infractions like parking violations, not as moving violations on a motorist's driving record.

Malloy, the Democrat who served 14 years as Stamford's mayor before winning last year's gubernatorial election, has long supported the idea of traffic cameras, his communications director, Colleen Flanagan, said Friday.

"He's been a proponent since his early days as a mayor, and if a bill on the issue makes it to his desk (barring any out of the norm language), he would sign it," she said in an e-mail.

The municipalities shown by latest census data to have populations of at least 60,000 — which would be eligible to install the "automatic traffic enforcement safety devices" — are Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Greenwich, Hamden, Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford, Waterbury and West Hartford.

Last week, the bill won approval from its second legislative panel, the planning and development committee, and now it appears headed for further debate in coming weeks at the judiciary committee.

Voting yes on the bill at the transportation committee meeting March 18 were Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, committee co-chairman; Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, committee co-chairman; Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton; Rep. Betty Boukus, D-Plainville; Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich; Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester; Rep. James Crawford, D-Westbrook; Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk; Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford; Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich; Rep. Lile Gibbons, R-Greenwich; Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck; Rep. Timothy Larson, D-East Hartford; Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton; Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven; Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford; Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold; Rep. Michael Molgano, R-Stamford; Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield; Rep. Elaine O'Brien, D-Suffield; Rep. Chris Perone, D-Norwalk; Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport; Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton; Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport; and Rep. Joseph Verrengia, D-West Hartford.

Voting no at the transportation panel's meeting March 18 were Rep. Janice Giegler, R-Danbury; Rep. Debralee Hovey, R-Monroe; Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon; Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme; Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury; Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol; Rep. Peggy Sayers, D-Windsor Locks; Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield; Rep. Joseph Serra, D-Middletown; Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford; and Rep. William Wadsworth, R-Farmington.

Voting yes on the bill at the planning and development panel meeting last Monday were Cassano, committee co-chairman; Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia, committee chairwoman; Rep. Bill Aman, R-South Windsor; Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford; Rep. Christopher Davis, R-East Windsor; Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield; Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport; Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven; Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison; Lemar; O'Brien; Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford; Ritter; Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford; Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford; Rep. Bill Simanski, R-Granby; and Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield.

Voting no at last Monday's planning and development panel meeting were Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson; and Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Wallingford.

Sometimes lawmakers say they'll vote yes in committee on a bill to move it forward for further discussion, but may oppose it on the floor of the House or Senate.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.

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