Traffic camera bill passes House committee, Iowa DOT head 'disappointed'

Measure will establish a uniform fine system for red-light and speeding violations

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DES MOINES – Legislation to bring automated traffic camera operations and fines under state regulation cleared a House transportation panel Thursday but Iowa’s top transportation official said it would be better to proceed with more stringent rules his agency has developed to promote road safety.

Members of the House Transportation Committee voted 16-4 to approve a measure that would authorize automatic traffic enforcement devices on state and local highways, require signs that alert drivers to the presence of cameras and establish a uniform fine system for red-light and speeding violations caught on camera.

“If we do nothing and leave this alone, it continues to be the Wild, Wild West,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, committee chairman and manager of House File 2016. “That makes me nervous.”

However, Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, who voted no on H.F. 2016, said she was concerned the legislation does nothing to require scientific reasons for installing cameras to improve safety rather than merely placing them in high-volume areas to generate revenue.

“It’s been touted as a safety concern and we know it isn’t,” she said.

Pettengill, co-leader of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee, said she likes the Iowa Department of Transportation rules that would require a six-part justification for the implementation, placement and use electronic enforcement devices on the state’s primary highway stem. The standards include provisions relating to motorist safety, signage and effectiveness.

Pettengill said she did not believe there would be seven votes on the 10-member committee at Friday’s meeting to delay implementation of the DOT rules later this month. Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, the other rules panel co-chair, agreed that the DOT rules likely would proceed as modified.

“We’re focused on safety,” said DOT Director Paul Trombino, who believes the automated traffic enforcement systems should be used as a last resort after other safety measures have been exhausted, not to generate revenue for cities. “If there are some other issues clouding this, then we may have some differences.”

Trombino attended Thursday’s House committee discussion and said he was disappointed with the result.

“What they have written there is a free-for-all. It’s basically what exists today. There’s no process involved at all. You can just put up a camera, so I’m disappointed,” Trombino said. He noted that 98 percent of the cameras in use are on the primary highway system because they need volume to make money.

Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said he voted to move the measure out of committee to allow more time to perfect the bill. He also liked provisions to set uniform fine schedules, noting there’s a variance from $65 to $180 for tickets issues for speeding violations clocked by cameras.

Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, a no vote, said it was telling that the DOT and state Department of Public Safety were registered in opposition to H.F. 2106. “I’m left to wonder who wants it,” he said.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, said his community once had three of the state’s 10 worst intersections and now “we’re off the list” since cameras were put into use in his city. “It has worked in my town,” he said.

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