Lawsuit targets school bus camera tickets in 2 Texas cities

AISD school buses outfitted with the new stop-arm cameras. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)
(KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

DALLAS (AP/KXAN) — A lawsuit contends that two Texas cities are illegally using cameras to ticket drivers alleged to have ignored extended stop arms on school buses, arguing that among other issues, the state legislature hasn’t authorized cities to take such action.

The recently filed lawsuit says Texas law already has a criminal penalty for ignoring school bus stop arms. It says local authorities can’t enact a conflicting ordinance without authorization. The lawsuit says Dallas and Carrollton “took conduct that is a crime” and “devised a civil penalty.” The lawsuit adds that such ordinances violate rights guaranteed in the Texas Constitution.

However, some attorneys say the ordinances don’t conflict with state law and guarantees of such constitutional rights don’t apply to civil penalties.

Numerous school districts in Central Texas currently have stop-arm cameras as well. At Austin Independent School District, which launched the cameras this school year, within the first 30 days of school, more than 1,700 drivers were cited for ignoring the stop-arms on school buses. Each ticket costs $300. The company that administers the bus camera program, American Traffic Solutions, keeps 60 percent of the revenue, while the district keeps the rest.

Within the first few weeks of school, AISD had two students who were hit by passing cars after they got off the school bus.

“That ordinance passed by Austin that operates under Austin Independent School district is also unconstitutional because it does exactly the same things that make the Dallas and the Carrollton ordinance unconstitutional,” said LeDouglas Johnson, the attorney in the class action lawsuit focused in the Dallas area. “It doesn’t matter which provider you go with, Austin went with a private company. What they’re doing is still unconstitutional for the same reasons.”

An Austin ISD spokesperson, Jacob Barrett, emailed KXAN stating that the district believes its bus stop-arm camera system is constitutional. He points out that the district worked with the city to pass an ordinance allowing for the tickets.

He says the district has two levels of appeal. The first is a hearing with an attorney where the officer who reviews the citation is present. The second is a review by the district’s lawyer.

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