HARRISBURG — Long-debated legislation to allow local police to use radar for speed enforcement moved out of the Senate transportation committee Tuesday. A similar bill was approved by the House transportation committee earlier this year.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that bars local police from using radar for speed enforcement. The state police have been allowed to use radar for speed enforcement for decades.
State Rep. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, the Democratic chair of the transportation committee, said negotiations about amending the bill further to get the support necessary for it to finally pass are ongoing and the bill's prime sponsor state Sen. Mario Scavello, “has agreed to work with all parties involved to refine and perfect it.”
Local mayors have been lobbying to get the ban on radar repealed, arguing that it’s difficult, and sometimes dangerous, for police to try to conduct speed enforcement in some neighborhoods without using radar. The legislation has never overcome resistance from lawmakers concerned about upsetting constituents worried that repealing the radar ban would prompt local police to set up speed traps to generate local revenue.
“The reason a radar bill never passed was due to the citizens not wanting it,” said James Sikorski Jr., Pennsylvania advocate for the National Motorists Association.
Sikorski said the legislation should include a requirement intended to ensure that speed limits are set appropriately by local governments and not lower than necessary in order to increase the likelihood that motorists will exceed the posted limits.
“It also refuses to require that tickets should only go to egregious violators, such as those who may be 15 mph above properly set speed limits,” he said. “This is 100 percent being done for the revenue.”
Scavello, R-Monroe County, said the point of the bill is to make roads safer and get drivers to slow down.
He said lawmakers put a cap in the legislation, Senate Bill 419, on how much revenue local governments can collect from speeding tickets.
That cap is set at 10 percent of the local government’s budget, he said.
State Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver County, said he’s been concerned about the radar proposals in the past fearing “they’d be a money grab,” he said. With the cap limiting how much revenue local governments can collect through speeding tickets, Vogel said he would support the legislation. It was approved by the transportation committee unanimously.
If a police department writes so many tickets that it generates too much money, any revenue above the 10 percent threshold would be returned to the state where it would be directed toward the cost of training for state and local police, Scavello said.
The legislation would also mandate that the local government pass an ordinance approving the use of radar by police and that for the first three months, police would only be allowed to give warnings instead of tickets.
The state Senate has previously passed legislation to end the ban on radar use by local police — most recently in 2019 when it was approved by a 49-1 vote. However, the legislation has always died in the state House.