Government

Supporters of Iowa traffic camera ban eyeing victory this year

Cedar Rapids traffic cams haven't issued tickets since April

(FILE PHOTO) Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A ban on speed and red light cameras in Iowa has stronger support this year than ever, a Republican lawmaker said on Friday.

State Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, said he believes he has the votes to pass the ban in the House. Traffic camera legislation has fizzled in past sessions.

“The tide has extremely turned, and it’s in our favor,” Highfill said in a phone interview Friday. “The opposition is worried ... This is the best support we’ve ever had.”

Three bills — two to ban the cameras and one to regulate them — passed the funnel and could be brought up for vote over the next several weeks.

House Study Bill 512, which Highfill sponsored, would ban the cameras. Senate File 220, which passed in the Senate last year and now is before the House, would regulate them. Senate Study Bill 3025, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year, is similar to the House plan to ban the cameras. If approved, the ban would take effect July 1.

Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, who supports regulations, not elimination, chairs the House Transportation Commission, which voted 17-1 to send Senate File 220 to the House Floor earlier this year.

“I actually think the more people get feedback from constituents, there’s more momentum to continue to allow cities to operate cameras so there’s more regulation,” Carlson said.

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Regulations would require uniformity of camera use across the state, bona fide reasons for where they are used, and more due process for citizens to have a say in how and where cameras are used, he said.

Interest exists for some type of legislation this year, but it wouldn’t take precedence over tax reform or finalizing the budget, he said.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who supports a ban, agreed the tide is shifting.

“I do believe you will see something happen, whether we get the ban over the finish line or need a compromise,” he said “There’s a strong appetite in the House and Senate to get the ban done. I believe the Senate has the votes.”

Kaufmann said if the ban can’t secure support, they could accept compromises such as requiring municipalities to choose in-state vendors to operate the cameras.

In Iowa, eight cities operated 78 speeding and red light automated traffic enforcement devices as of January 2018, according to a fiscal note by the Fiscal Services Division. In the most recent reporting year, those cameras issued 326,442 citations. Local authorities have collected $12 million from 237,982 of those tickets. Private third-party vendors have collected a combined $6.5 million.

The Cedar Rapids traffic camera program included 28 cameras at seven locations, issuing by far the most tickets — 124,346 — and generating the most money — $4 million — of anywhere in the state, according to the fiscal note. This is despite only about half the tickets being paid, and third party vendor Gatso USA, of Beverley, Mass., clearing $2 million.

Cameras on Interstate 380 and the westbound speed cameras at the intersection of First Avenue and 10th Street SE have ceased issuing tickets following an April 2017 ruling that the Iowa Department of Transportation has the authority over the cameras.

Highfill, Kaufmann and Carlson agreed actions taken by cities that use them, specifically Cedar Rapids mailing out 221,000 notices for unpaid tickets dating back to 2010 days before Christmas, rubbed lawmakers the wrong way. There also are incidents in which cameras have malfunctioned, leading to erroneous tickets, he said.

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Jeff Pomeranz, Cedar Rapids City Manager, was asked whether the city miscalculated in sending out the notices, which represent $17 million in unpaid fines. He said only the cameras are about safety, the city supports the regulated version, and the bill to ban the cameras would have come up regardless of what the city did.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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