State justices rule against local votes on traffic cameras

OLYMPIA — A divided state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that local initiatives can’t be used to create new laws that restrict red-light traffic camera programs.

The high court ruled 5-4 that a measure overwhelmingly approved by Mukilteo voters in 2010 was legally flawed.

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, found that the measure was not valid because the Legislature gave power for enacting enforcement-camera laws to city councils — not voters.

The dissenting opinion, however, said the way Mukilteo decided its camera controversy was sound and that subsequent efforts to get the state’s high court involved unnecessary.

“The city council has repealed the ordinance allowing the use of red-light cameras in Mukilteo,” Justice James M. Johnson wrote. “The matter was appropriately and constitutionally resolved through the political process. Not every issue requires judicial resolution.”

Mukilteo initiative activist Tim Eyman said the ruling won’t stop efforts to remove enforcement cameras from communities around Washington. Nothing in the decision blocks advisory votes, as happened in Monroe in November, nor does it prohibit other options, Eyman said. Those include encouraging state legislators to repeal the 2005 law that authorized red-light cameras or a statewide initiative to accomplish the same result.

“Because we know the people are on our side, we will continue to fight to get rid of these obnoxious cameras using state and local initiatives and lobbying the Legislature until they’re gone once and for all,” Eyman said.

The justices were divided over whether the Mukilteo vote was advisory or a binding initiative.

For much of 2011, Eyman pressed for similar votes in Mukilteo and Monroe. He’s also supported similar efforts in Bellingham and Longview. In each instance, the votes have been advisory and voters have rejected the cameras.

The purpose of those votes was to illustrate to legislators “how much the people hate these things,” Eyman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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