Government

Iowa traffic camera ban makes progress in Senate

'You're putting innocent lives on the line,' opponent says

A speed camera monitors traffic along northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. A bill that would ban the cameras advanced Tuesday in the Iowa Senate, where it will now head for debate on the Senate floor. Eight Iowa cities and one county have installed the cameras. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A speed camera monitors traffic along northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. A bill that would ban the cameras advanced Tuesday in the Iowa Senate, where it will now head for debate on the Senate floor. Eight Iowa cities and one county have installed the cameras. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Opponents of legislative efforts to ban automated speed enforcement cameras failed to slow the issue from advancing Tuesday in a Senate committee, making the bill eligible for floor debate.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to approve Senate Study Bill 3025, a bill that would bar communities from operating automated traffic enforcement cameras in Iowa effective July 1, although violators with outstanding citations still would be required to pay fines for tickets issued before that date.

Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, joined six GOP senators in passing the bill while four Democrats and two Republicans opposed it.

“The cities have taken a criminal law traffic offense and subverted it into a civil law to bypass the criminal court system,” said committee chairman Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who contended the cameras violate Iowans’ constitutional rights while placing revenue in the name of safety.

“It goes against the foundation of this country and our court system where you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he added.

Zaun said the expanded use of red-light and speeding enforcement cameras has become “epidemic” in Iowa, with a sizable share of the revenue generated by the devices going to foreign-based companies that contract with cities wanting to stretch scarce public safety resources and remove officers from having to make traffic stops along dangerous highways.

“This is something that creates a new risk for law enforcement,” said Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who voted against the bill.

Another Des Moines Democrat, Sen. Tony Bisignano, said Senate Study Bill 3025 was another example of the state Legislature exceeding its role by encroaching on local control and home rule.

“I find nothing that allows the state to tell local government how to enforce the traffic public safety,” Bisignano said in opposing the measure and offering the alternative advice for motorists to slow down.

“You’re taking away $12 million from local governments because you have a philosophical opposition to somehow control death speeds,” he added. “You’re putting lives on the line. You’re putting innocent lives on the line.”

After the meeting, Taylor said he supported the ban because traffic cameras are “tourist traps” designed to ticket out-of-town motorists who don’t know where the devices are located to temporarily slow down to avoid being ticketed.

“I don’t see it as any deterrent to speeding. They get two blocks from where they know the camera is (to reduce their speeds) and then they go like a bat out of hell, so it doesn’t do anything,” Taylor said.

Zaun said he believed “the momentum is shifting” among legislators who are ready to remove the devices from Iowa roadways.

Last year, a bipartisan group of senators voted to keep the traffic enforcement cameras in place but agreed to subject them to stricter regulations in hopes of curbing some of the concerns that have been associated with the cameras that were then operating in eight cities and one county.

The bill seeking to regulate rather than eliminate the cameras still is eligible for consideration in the House, along with a separate measure to ban them outright similar to the new Senate bill.

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