Stop the red light cameras was the message delivered by Judge Neill in his opinion holding that the St. Louis red light camera ordinance was invalid on the grounds that there was no state enabling legislation. Judge Neill, after finding for St. Louis on a litany of issues, concluded that the absence of enabling legislation by the State Missouri precluded St. Louis from enacting a red light camera ordinance used to enforce the law prohibiting the running of red lights.
This case appears to be heading for the Missouri Court of Appeals for resolution. What can we expect? Judge Neill’s opinion is based upon a rule of law known as Dillon’s Rule which states that a municipal corporation can only exercise those powers granted in express words or those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to powers expressly granted. These powers must be essential to the declared object and purpose of a corporation and not simply convenient but indispensable. The difficulty with the application of Dillon’s Rule is that St. Louis is a home rule city, which gets its powers directly from the Missouri Constitution. Home Rule Cities have all powers not denied by the Constitution, state law, or by the city’s home rule charter. Obviously, Judge O’Neil’s opinion is based upon an erroneous application of the law and I expect his opinion on this issue would be reversed on appeal.
What about the other 35 communities that have adopted red light camera ordinances that are not home rule cities? The court’s opinion also overlooked section 304.120 .2 (1) and (3), which provides that municipalities may by ordinance make additional rules of the road or traffic regulations to meet their needs and traffic conditions and require vehicles to stop before crossing certain designated streets and boulevards. These provisions of State law clearly authorize municipalities to make additional rules of the road so even if an appellate court concludes that Dillon’s Rule applies the state has already authorized municipal corporations to make additional rules of the road. The power to enact red light camera ordinances can reasonably be implied from this grant of power. Despite my optimism that the decision by Judge Neill will be reversed local communities need to be very concerned because of the scope of the issues, the depth of the opposition and the importance of preserving the ability to develop innovative solutions to the running of red lights that cause death and serious injuries.
In the meantime some communities decided to delay enactment of a red light camera ordinance while ordinances in other communities are put in doubt. This is extremely unfortunate since as noted in my earlier post there is strong evidence that red light camera ordinances reduce serious accidents at intersections where there are traffic signals. In the meantime local communities will have to weather the storm from opponents to red light camera ordinances. Stay tuned.
Howard Wright @ 2011