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A Deal Is Reached to Reactivate Speed Cameras in School Zones

August 28, 2018 10:25 am Updated: August 28, 2018 10:28 am

NEW YORK — State and city officials have brokered a deal to reactivate speed cameras around New York City schools before students return in September, in a maneuver intended to bypass the state Legislature.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed an executive order declaring that the lapsing of the speed cameras and the imminent start of school constituted an emergency that endangered the lives of children.

Most of the summons-issuing cameras went dark at the end of July, when a section of state law authorizing 120 of the cameras expired. Another section of the law that has kept an additional 20 cameras operating is to expire at the end of August.

And while the Assembly earlier this year passed an extension to the law that also increased the number of cameras, the measure got bogged down in the state Senate.

The executive order temporarily suspends the sunset provisions in the laws relating to the cameras. The order also directs the state Department of Motor Vehicles to share information with the city so it can match the license plates of speeding vehicles to their owners and assess fines — all without the need for a new state law.

At the same time, leaders in the City Council have promised to pass a local law that mirrors the speed camera provisions of state law, Cuomo said at a Manhattan news conference.

Officials have previously said that only the state could authorize the city to collect fines with evidence from the cameras. Yet city officials now seem to be saying that they can pass their own law and make it work, as long as they have access to license plate data from the Motor Vehicles Department.

“This is an aggressive legal action,” said Cuomo, a Democrat who is running for re-election. “I believe we are also in extraordinary circumstances, and I’m not going to be a governor who sits by and because the state Senate is playing politics and refusing to come back, we jeopardize human life, especially the lives of children.”

The City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who appeared with the governor, said that the Council will hold a special session on Wednesday to pass the law. Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter he will sign it before the start of classes next week.

The cameras are credited with saving lives by calming traffic around schools where they are used. Cuomo said that 18 children a year were killed in vehicle accidents before the speed cameras were put in place, and the number has since decreased to eight per year.

“Since the minute the cameras were turned off, the City Council has been seeking a solution, and I’m grateful we were able to work with the governor and the mayor to figure out a way to get the cameras turned on before school,” Johnson said Sunday, as the deal on the cameras was being finalized. “We think this will protect kids’ lives.”

Although de Blasio has hammered away for weeks at the speed camera issue, he was not at the news conference, which was held at the governor’s office on Third Avenue — posting a message on his Twitter account instead. De Blasio and Cuomo have a contentious relationship and rarely appear together. De Blasio’s office said that he was driving his son, Dante, to Connecticut, where he attends Yale University.

De Blasio has used the expiration of the speed camera law to excoriate Senate Republicans, employing it as fodder for his push to have Democrats win control of the Senate in the November elections.

“The minute they were gone — two weeks — we saw a vast amount more speeding,” de Blasio said of the cameras at a recent news conference.

Despite the mayor’s claim, the number of speeders changed only slightly, according to data provided by City Hall. Although the city lost the ability to issue summonses to most speeders after the first section of law expired in July, the cameras remained on, tracking speeds and compiling data. In the days after the law lapsed, speeders made up 1.6 percent of vehicles that passed the cameras, compared with 1.5 percent in the days before the change.

Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, said that they support the speed camera program. “We’d even consider codifying the governor’s executive order into law,” she said in a statement on Monday. “The real question is, will the Assembly join us?”