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Tennessee: Camera Company Challenged on PI License Issue

December 2, 2009

Tennessee: Camera Company Challenged on PI License Issue
As Tennessee lawmakers question whether photo enforcement companies should be regulated, a pending court case could decide the question. 

Attorney Gregory D. SmithAs members of the Tennessee General Assembly consider whether to impose new regulations on photo enforcement vendors in the state, a pending court challenge seeks the enforcement of existing regulatory statutes against the firms. The state House Transportation Committee yesterday held a hearing that examined how Lasercraft, a company based in Bridlington, England, operates red light cameras on behalf of the city of Knoxville. State Representative Ben West, Jr. (D-Hermitage) questioned why this company is not regulated by the state.

“I bring all this up because as I look around the room, licensed and regulated is home inspectors, lawyers, truckers and my companies,” West said. “This is a company that comes into Tennessee and obtains money from Tennesseans… They don’t pay taxes here. They’re not registered here, and they’re not regulated here. The question is, are they regulated in any other state?”

According to a Dallas County, Texas District Court judge’s April ruling, a photo ticketing company “is required to obtain a license under the Texas Occupations Code.” The Arizona legislature’s Legislative Council agreed that speed camera and red light camera operators must hold private investigator’s licenses (view memo). Despite this, no photo enforcement company operating in the US holds such a license.

Attorney Gregory D. Smith, defending a local trucking company against a red light camera citation, wants the Clarksville City Court to suppress photographic evidence from being introduced at trial that was secured by Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian company not licensed to conduct private investigations in the US. Tennessee law, like that of Arizona and Texas, applies the licensing mandate to “any person who engages in the business or accepts employment to obtain or furnish information with reference to… the securing of evidence to be used before any court” (Tennessee Code Section 62-26-202).

The city argued that even if Redflex were found to be in violation of this law, the photos should be admitted because city officials operated in good faith.

“Fundamental fairness dictates that if the city and Redflex wish to enforce the law, they should likewise follow the law,” Smith wrote in his brief to the court. “Can Redflex and the city… benefit both economically and in court from actions Redflex knew, or should have known, was in direct violation of Tennessee law?”

Smith’s legal challenge is ongoing. The Transportation Committee will meet again this morning to continue discussions of possible legislation to impose greater uniformity on the way photo enforcement operates in the state. Earlier this year, lawmakers in the guise of “restricting” the use of speed cameras authorized the Tennessee Department of Transportation to install photo radar devices on interstate highways (view law). Last year the agency expressed strong interest in implementing such a program.

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