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Bus camera plan passes Senate despite city red-light camera 'scandal'

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GANGS-CST-061212_8_27138789.JPGState Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago), pictured in this June 2012 file photo, passed legislation Wednesday that would allow school buses to be equipped with cameras to photograph motorists who drive around stopped buses when students are boarding. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD-Igniting hostile sniping on the Senate floor, a bid to outfit school buses with a similar type of camera that captures red-light scofflaws in some of Chicago's busiest intersections advanced at the Statehouse Wednesday in a controversial safety push to protect students as they board buses.

Despite questions about high fines and constitutionality, the plan sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) cleared the state Senate on a 36-12 roll call, with two members voting present, and now moves to the Illinois House.

"This is a safety mechanism," Munoz told colleagues. "This would hopefully be a deterrent for someone going around the school bus."

Under his plan, school districts would be given the authority to partner with cities and counties in equipping school buses with the cameras, which would photograph vehicles and their license plate numbers if they go around a bus with its "stop" arm deployed as students are boarding.

Motorists would face a fine of $150 for a first-time offense and fines of $500 for any subsequent violations. Any motorists ensnared by the bus cameras wouldn't face moving violations as they would if a police officer witnessed them going around a stopped bus.

The plan was pushed by lobbyist Al Ronan, who represents Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 and was a fundraiser for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Another Ronan client is RedSpeed Illinois, an Illinois-based seller of red-light cameras that has pushed legislation that allowed communities to use its product.

A Republican critic of Munoz' plan, state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), complained about the cameras' unpopularity in Chicago and Ronan's involvement in pushing the legislation.

Duffy also alluded to a Chicago Tribune report on a federal bribery investigation into Chicago's red-light camera program and a rival purveyor of red-light cameras, Redflex Traffic Systems - a probe Duffy bombastically characterized Wednesday as the "largest scandal in Illinois history."

"It's the same camera company and the same camera lobbyists associated with Gov. Blagojevich and other scandals who's promoting this bill," said state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), who has been a frequent critic of red-light cameras.

Neither RedSpeed nor Redflex testified in favor of Munoz' bill in Senate committee, legislative records show.

The issue is a personal one for Duffy. In 2010, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) used red light-camera video of Duffy making an illegal turn at a Schaumburg intersection to dramatize the need for allowing red-light camera enforcement in Illinois.

Duffy's statements Wednesday drew a fiery reaction from Munoz, who has accepted $4,500 in contributions from RedSpeed Illinois since 2009.

"Here he stands now, saying there's corruption about cameras, the worse there has ever been and bringing up Blagojevich. We took that matter up, and we know where he is," Munoz said, referring at first to Duffy and then the imprisoned governor.

"You like to go around cameras," Munoz snapped, his voice rising in a direct verbal hit on Duffy. "You drive right through them, you in your fancy car, your fancy suit. You want to bring it up? I can do it too."

Munoz later apologized to the chamber for his outburst.

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