Traffic camera bill faces yellow light

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DES MOINES — A proposal that could result in county clerks of court processing hundreds of thousands of citations generated by traffic enforcement cameras hit a caution light Monday.

A House Transportation subcommittee did not kill but declined to advance House File 2109. The bill would establish rules for the operation of traffic enforcement cameras and route the fines through the clerks’ offices, a move one lobbyist told legislators would be an unfunded mandate. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Dallas-Melcher, said the bill needs work. If it is advanced to the whole committee, it probably will have amendments.

In Cedar Rapids, more than 500,000 citations worth more than $22 million have been issued since 2010. Under the bill, the citations would be processed by the clerk of court’s office. Ninety percent of the fine would be retained by the city, and 10 percent would go into the state general fund.

That could be interpreted as an unfunded mandate because the clerks’ offices in counties where traffic enforcement cameras are being used might have to hire staff to handle the work, said Gary Grant, who represents the city of Cedar Rapids.

There is some concern, he added, that the bill could amount to a ban on the use of the cameras.

The Iowa Department of Transportation also raise concerns because it has established administrative rules for the cameras, according to Steve Gent, director of traffic and safety.

“We think they’re pretty good,” Gent said of the rules, which are based on national standards. They address some of the issues in HF 2109, such as requiring local law enforcement to certify the calibration of the cameras.

He reminded the three-member panel there are number of lawsuits pending that deal with the DOT and use of the cameras, including one involving Cedar Rapids. They may go to court later this year. The city also is being sued by people who have been issued camera-generated citations.

Heartsill said he was concerned that because the companies operating the cameras are for-profit, there could be some “blurring of the lines” between profit and public safety.

Mike St. Clair, who represents GATSO USA, one of the camera vendors, said the company would welcome a regulatory framework to address concerns. “But this bill, I don’t think it gets us there,” he said.

Robert Palmer of the Iowa League of Cities said the arrangement with the camera vendors is the sport of public-private partnership that allows cities to “operate at a lower cost versus us hiring staff and buying the equipment.”

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