Government

Traffic camera ban passes Iowa Senate

House still looking at options of banning or regulating

Speed cameras are shown on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW. The Iowa Senate on Tuesday voted to ban the devices. The House is considering two options — one that would ban the cameras and another that would subject them to more regulations. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Speed cameras are shown on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW. The Iowa Senate on Tuesday voted to ban the devices. The House is considering two options — one that would ban the cameras and another that would subject them to more regulations. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Government-run traffic cameras that record drivers who speed and run red lights in Iowa would be banned under legislation approved Tuesday by state lawmakers.

The traffic camera ban passed the Iowa Senate on a 32-18 vote at the end of an extended debate, during which legislators discussed whether the cameras are appropriate traffic safety tools or moneymaking constitutional violations.

“It’s a racket,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. “It’s about money. This is about money.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, disagreed, saying, “I think it should be an option. I don’t think the state should get to dictate to communities how to enforce their public safety.”

Legislators in the House are considering a pair of traffic camera proposals: one that would ban them like the Senate proposal, and another that would permit the cameras but add regulations.

The debate over traffic cameras — which capture video of drivers speeding or running red lights and stop signs, allowing local law enforcement to issue citations — is not new to the Iowa Legislature, nor are the arguments for and against the cameras.

Those who wish to ban the traffic cameras say the cameras violate an individual’s constitutional right to due process by creating a presumption of guilt before innocence. They also say the cameras are not necessarily tools for improving traffic safety but rather for driving revenue to local governments and the companies that make the cameras.

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“I’m against traffic cameras because I believe you have a constitutional right to face your accuser,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa.

The proposed ban, Senate File 2148, is opposed by law enforcement agencies, who say the cameras help make roadways and intersections safer by changing drivers’ behaviors.

“To me, this comes down to local control, public safety and letting Iowans decide what’s best for their community,” said Sen. Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa.

Most Republicans supported the ban, and most Democrats opposed it, but the Senate vote did not fall perfectly along party lines.

Six Democrats supported the ban, including Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids and Bill Dotzler of Waterloo.

Bisignano offered an amendment that would have rewritten the proposal to allow traffic cameras but add myriad regulations to address most of the concerns raised by traffic camera opponents. That proposal was voted down, 28-22. He also offered amendments to permit traffic cameras in school and work zones, but those, too, were defeated.

Bisignano during debate also cited the amount of revenue local law enforcement agencies stand to lose if traffic cameras are banned. Bisignano said that lost revenue will make it more difficult for those agencies to provide public safety.

Eight cities and Polk County have the cameras. Cedar Rapids had collected the most revenue from the cameras, about $4 million, in the 2017 fiscal year.

Zaun said that argument proves the cameras are more about making money than providing public safety.

In other Senate action:

FOREIGN AGENTS

Iowans working for the state would not be allowed to also work as foreign agents under a proposal passed on a unanimous Senate vote.

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Senate File 2323 was in response to news reports in November of an Iowa couple who performed work advocating for Saudi Arabia interests while also serving on state boards.

STATE FAIR

State Fairgoers will be able to use their credit card to pay for amusement park concessions under a proposal, House File 2417, that received unanimous Senate approval.

IMPORTING ALCOHOL

Iowans would be able to bring home up to nine liters of alcohol, up from the current limit of one liter, under a proposal that was approved, 49-1, by the Senate. The proposal, Senate File 2347, applies only to alcohol imported for personal consumption, not for resale.

WORKERS COMPENSATION

A new unit to investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud would be established under a proposal that gained Senate approval along party lines.

With most Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing, the Senate passed Senate File 2305 on a 28-22 vote, It would create a Workers’ Compensation Fraud Unit within the state insurance division. The proposal would make workers’ compensation fraud a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine between $750 and $7,500.

During debate that at times grew heated, Democrats said the proposal appears designed to dissuade injured workers from filing for workers’ compensation benefits for fear they should be investigated for fraud.

“Make no mistake about it, this legislation has the potential to railroad a worker injured on the job into a felony sentence simply because he or she filed a claim,” said Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who is a workers’ compensation attorney. “I think this is an insulting and incredibly unfair bill to Iowans who have the misfortune of suffering an injury on the job.”

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said the proposal is needed because Iowa is one of a handful of states without a unit dedicated to investigating workers’ compensation fraud. He pushed back at accusations the proposal unfairly targets workers.

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“This has no impact on a fair worker who is claiming a legitimate injury,” Chapman said. “It’s hard to believe that we can’t be united in combating fraud.”

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

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