Centre County, PA- Tuesday Senate Bill 607 passed in the Pennsylvania Senate by a vote of 49-to-one. The bill would allow local police forces to use radar to clock the speed of drivers.
SB 607 now moves on to the PA House, where similarly proposed bills have been denied during previous sessions.
What does the bill do?
SB 607 proposes that PA join the other 49 states in the nation that allow local police to use radar to determine the speed of drivers.
If passed, the bill requires local governments to post signs warning drivers that police in the municipality use radar. The bill also requires that radar cannot be used to clock drivers within 500 feet of a sign showing a decrease in speed limit… except in school zones and work zones.
Other portions of the bill require each radar system to be tested for accuracy at least once a year. There’s also a requirement that each local municipality approve the use of radar.
If the current bill is signed into law, police using radar to monitor car speeds can only issues warnings, not fines, to drivers during the first 90 days after the bill takes effect.
Why hasn’t the bill made it through the PA House Previously?
Some lawmakers fear that local police will use radar to write more tickets, to earn more money for their municipalities.
Spring Township Police Chief Michael Danneker says the goal is not to make money, but instead keep the roads safe.
“There’s so much more than just this money-making thing that people get caught up on. I don’t have any problems with some sort of oversight to make sure municipalities wouldn’t take advantage of it. But, we have to handle calls too… so it’s not like I’m gonna come int and work a 10-hour shift, and just write tickets all day for speeding,” Chief Danneker said.
SB 607 allows PA municipalities to keep up to 20% of their total budget from tickets issued with a radar system.
This means a large municipality like State College Borough can keep roughly $9 million in revenue generated from speeding tickets alone, if they could ever attain such a figure (previous number is based on the borough’s 2019 proposed budget).
In smaller municipalities with police forces, such as Spring Township (Centre Co.), the maximum the township could keep from their speeding ticket revenue sits around $500,000 (based on the township’s general fund budget).
The goal of capping a municipality’s financial gains at 20% of their total budget is to provide oversight, so officers can’t try to earn more money for the municipality by writing tickets all day (in the aforementioned quote Danneker says this isn’t the case). However, given the two figures mentioned in the paragraph above, it remains to be seen if local police will ever be able to write enough tickets to reach the maximum cap a municipality can make.
For some, this raises the question: if the goal is keeping municipalities from abusing the system, why set the maximum amount of money they can make at a figure that is likely well above what they will make?
What do Centre Co. lawmakers have to say about SB 607?
The bill has already received a “yes” vote from Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34).
As the bill moves to the State House, PA Representative Scott Conklin (D-77) says he will vote “yes” on the bill as well.
He added: “… I’m confident that, unlike other legislative sessions, this bill will actually make it to the governor’s desk for his signature. By allowing our local law enforcement departments to utilize radar, our communities and roadways will be safer.”
WTAJ reached out the office of PA Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-171) for his take on the bill, but did not receive a response.
What do Centre Co. police officers say about the bill?
(Video below focuses on this topic)
PA State Police can already use radar to catch speeding drivers. Local police in Centre County tell WTAJ that radar would be a big help.
“We are hand-tied in the way we run speed,” Chief Danneker said.
Currently, local officers must measure speed and test their equipment to clock speed using what’s known as “Vascar”. Officers say they usually try and hide themselves when looking for speeding drivers… but they add that the current equipment limits the places they can set up a “speed trap”.
With radar, police say they can expand their reach.
“We get a lot of complaints about neighborhoods that this car or that car is going 45 miles an hour in a 25 …so that will give us an opportunity to reach in those and establish some bad habits some people have established over time because of our inability to go in there and run speed the way we’d like to,” Danneker said.
Tor Michaels, Spokesperson, for Rep. Conklin added: “Look at the school zones, look at the neighborhoods, look at the areas that need to be patrolled. This will enhance safety for our children at crosswalks. This is something that has been needed for years, and it’s time for us to act on it and get it to the governor’s desk so that he can sign it.”
As budget season continues in Harrisburg, it remains to be seen exactly when SB 607 will be voted on in the PA House.