Traffic Cameras Remain Contested Policy Issue in Iowa

Lawmakers have rejected the idea of banning the technology, instead opting for strict regulations. But some say they won’t abide until all the cameras are gone.

by James Q. Lynch, The Gazette / March 15, 2018

(TNS) — DES MOINES — Possibly leaving the fate of automated traffic cameras unresolved for another legislative session, Iowa House members Wednesday rejected the idea of banning the devices and chose instead to impose strict regulations.

The vote to regulate puts the House at odds with the Senate, which earlier this year approved a ban.

That means the amended bill dealing with the cameras used in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City and other communities must head back to the Senate — where a key senator said he won’t be happy “until they are all gone.”

“I haven’t given up, but certainly there are other higher priorities around here,” a disappointed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said after the House voted 77-21 to allow cities and counties to operate the cameras in school zones, construction zones and other high-risk areas. “It might be time for me to give up the fight for this session.”

Given Zaun’s opposition to the notion of still allowing some cameras, it’s possible the issue will be shelved for this legislative session.

To further complicate the outlook, the Iowa Supreme Court has yet to rule on an appeal brought by Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine challenging orders from the Iowa Department of Transportation to shut down or move some of the speed cameras used by the cities.

At one time, 78 speed and red light cameras were operating in eight Iowa cities and one county, although some have been decommissioned.

Wednesday in the House, Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, acknowledged defeat in the chamber after House members voted down, 55-43, his move to ban the cameras.

“I know I lost, but I’ll be back” next year trying to ban the devices, Highfill said. “As long as I’m here, I’ll be working on it. I’m kind of annoying like that.”

Instead of a ban, 40 Democrats and 37 Republicans voted for what bill manager Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, described as “safety, due process, personal responsibility and sensible regulation” of the cameras. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the bill.

The amended Senate File 220 requires:

  • Local governments that want to use cameras justify them based on data, including traffic speeds and volume and crash history.
  • A public hearing be held on placement of each camera.
  • Fines be the same amount as those from a citation issued by a law enforcement officer.
  • Revenue from fines be used for streets, roads and public safety.
  •  Local governments wanting to use cameras on primary roads get approval from Iowa DOT.
  • The cameras be tested for accurate calibration each day, and local authorities keep records of daily and monthly calibrations.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, questioned whether the presence of speed cameras was needed for public safety. When they were turned off on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids, speeds increased but crashes did not, he said.

Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who noted he has not had a moving violation since 2003, said banning them was about protecting liberty.

“This is an issue about our freedoms,” he said. The cameras “deprive people of their due process and that’s wrong.”

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said the Iowa Constitution not only outlines legislative authority, but the right of home rule for cities.

“The Legislature already provides guidelines for statutory speeds in cities,” the former mayor said. “That’s all we should be doing. We should leave it up to the local elected officials to decide how they want to enforce those speeds.”

©2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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