Beaufort News

Senator's last-minute amendment puts brakes on speed-camera ban

A bill that would have shut down Ridgeland's controversial speed camera program on Interstate 95 was derailed Thursday by a last-minute amendment that likely will keep the measure from becoming law this year.

State Sen. Larry Grooms thought his yearlong battle with the Jasper County town was nearing an end Thursday as he awaited a final vote on a bill he wrote to ban the cameras.

The Bonneau Republican thought the Senate would have no problem approving an amendment tacked on by the House Judiciary Committee last month, and the legislation would be sent to Gov. Nikki Haley for her consideration.

He was wrong.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, introduced an amendment Thursday that forced the bill off the Senate calendar on the final day of the legislative session.

"I had no idea he was going to do that," Grooms said. "I thought the bill would come back clean."

The Senate opted to carry the bill over to a special legislative session, which begins June 14. Lawmakers will then hash out the state budget and tackle issues related to political redistricting.

Grooms said he does not know if there will be time to debate the bill in that special session.

"If not," he said, "the bill will be one of the first orders of business in January."

The amendment would allow municipalities to use speed cameras to issue tickets for violating a local ordinance -- as Ridgeland does -- and allow law-enforcement officers to mail tickets to drivers if the officer thinks handing the ticket to the driver would be "unnecessarily dangerous," Grooms said.

"It's pretty subjective," Grooms said. "Getting out of bed in the morning could be perceived as being 'unnecessarily dangerous.' As far as I know, there is no support in the Senate for the Sheheen amendment."

Sheheen said he had concerns about officer safety when the bill passed the Senate in March. Sheheen, however, voted for the bill, according to legislative records. It passed the House on Wednesday.

"The bill was written so broadly that it didn't seem to keep officers from serving traffic tickets if they didn't apprehend the offender or if they were in a dangerous place to serve the ticket," Sheheen said. "When the bill comes back from the House, that's when you put up the amendments, and that's what I did."

Sheheen has played a small role this year in the statewide debate over speed cameras.

In February, Sheheen used Senate rules to postpone debate on the measure, which passed the Senate more than a month later.

According to the S.C. Ethics Commission, Sheheen's gubernatorial campaign received a $1,000 contribution in October 2010 from iTraffic, the company that helped Ridgeland launch the camera system.

Sheheen said the contribution had nothing to do with his introduction of the amendment Thursday.

"Thousands of people contributed to my campaign for governor," Sheheen said.