When the Judiciary Committee held a bill Tuesday morning that would have allowed cities of 60,000 or more to install cameras at traffic lights, members of the Democratic caucus said it was because of heavy opposition to the measure.
Legislative rules say the committee has seven days to act on a bill from the date it is referred from the floor. So because they choose to hold the measure Tuesday, the measure is effectively dead for the session.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, supported the measure but said much of the recent opposition was generated by an April article published by the New Haven Independent. In the article, New Haven Alderman Charles Blango recommends using the cameras to help catch other kinds of criminals like thieves or murderers.
Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, said that when she arrived at the committee’s Democratic caucus that morning, the word around the room was Blango’s suggestions had killed the measure.
Reached by phone, Blango rejected the notion that his ideas effectively squashed the measure.
“To say that I have that much power… come on, I think they’re smarter legislators that that,” he said. “If that killed the bill it was already in their hearts to kill the bill.”
Blango said he supported the measure and pointed out that he has no vote in Hartford. He said he wanted to enable the camera footage to be used to catch other criminals because his neighborhood is crippled by fear. The police are doing their jobs but people are afraid to speak when they witness a crime, he said.
Crime is out of control in New Haven and folks have not been willing to adequately address the issue in the 48 years he’s been there, Blango said, adding that in the end, he doesn’t craft the language of legislation.
Regardless of what his intentions were, Holder-Winfield said the April 27 story left people with the impression that the cameras would be used for purposes other than what the measure intended.
And they haven’t been shy about speaking against them. Dillon said recently constituent opposition to the idea has become rather hostile. She has received angry calls to her home and emails, all basically saying, “Don’t spy on us,” she said.
Dillon, who generally supported the measure, said she also had concerns about aspects of it and had intended to offer amendments. The issue comes down to a debate over safety versus privacy, she said, and she wasn’t the only legislator grappling with it.
The bill was largely a New Haven effort from its inception. When the measure came up in the Transportation Committee Rep. Roland Lemar III, D-New Haven, said it was a public safety issue. He said there are people in New Haven, where more people walk and bike to work than in many Connecticut cities, who are afraid to walk or bike seven blocks because of reckless drivers.
But the Committee’s Co-Chairman Rep. Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, who said he had supported the measure in the Transportation Committee, said there was now enough disagreement in the Democratic caucus alone that it made sense to hold it.
Many had concerns over the fact that there would be no way to appeal a ticket received as a result of the cameras. Some were uncomfortable also with the “Big Brother” aspect of having cameras recording citizens, Fox said.