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State

Red light camera study bill advances in Senate

Devices are one focus of probe of Sen. Martin Sandoval

SPRINGFIELD — A bill calling on the Illinois Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the use of automated red light cameras advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday, lawmakers’ first day back at the Capitol for the final three days of the fall veto session.

Those devices, and the contracts that many Chicago-area suburban governments have with the companies that provide them, are believed to be one subject of an ongoing federal corruption probe focusing on state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.

Federal agents executed a search warrant on Sandoval’s Statehouse office Sept. 24. Among the items agents were looking for were documents or records pertaining to a company called SafeSpeed, which provides red light cameras to a number of local governments in the Chicago area, according to the warrant.

Red light cameras are automated devices that photograph vehicles if they pass through a red light without stopping, and generate a citation to the vehicle’s owner. Local governments typically split the revenue generated by the devices with the vendor.

According to published reports, Sandoval is said to have intervened on behalf of SafeLight to have IDOT approve red light cameras in locations the agency had previously rejected, all while accepting large campaign contributions from the company and people affiliated with it.

Although some lawmakers have called to ban the use of the devices, Senate Bill 1297, sponsored by Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, calls on IDOT only to conduct a study “evaluating automated traffic law enforcement systems” in the state and to report back to lawmakers “on the overall operation, usage, permit process, and regulation” of the devices, along with any recommendations the agency deems necessary.

The measure passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Sandoval chaired before he was pressured to step down while the investigation continues.

If the full Senate does not vote on the bill by Thursday, the final day of the veto session, it could leave no time for the House to consider the measure this year. Lawmakers would then need to take it back up when they return in January for the start of the regular 2020 session.

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