Government

Traffic cameras, school vouchers dead issues for this Iowa legislative session

Property tax 'backfill' phaseout is iffy

Speed enforcement cameras are seen installed on overhead sign support over northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue NE in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. . (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Speed enforcement cameras are seen installed on overhead sign support over northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue NE in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. . (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Efforts to ban or even regulate traffic enforcement cameras on Iowa highways have hit a legislative dead end as leaders of the Republican-run Legislature set their sights on adjourning the 2018 session, key legislators said Friday.

Legislation to provide state-funded education savings accounts for families sending their children to private schools similarly was among the issues that stalled or got sidelined in the march to adjournment.

House GOP leaders also were non-committal on the fate of a bill to phaseout the state “backfill” money to local governmental entities to replace lost commercial property tax revenue due to a 2013 tax cut.

A disappointed Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who successfully moved a July 1 ban on traffic cameras through the Iowa Senate earlier this year, said he was unable to negotiate a workable solution with House members who revamped this bill to subject the speeding and red-light enforcement cameras to state regulation but not eliminate them.

“Cameras are dead for this session,” Zaun said in an interview. “I’ve tried to negotiate a compromise and have been unsuccessful.

“They can still continue to take advantage of our citizens,” he added. “I’ll give it a run next session. I’m very frustrated but it’s getting down to the end and, unfortunately, I could not do anything about it.”

The end of the line for the traffic ban legislation followed another recent setback for camera opponents when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the Iowa Department of Transportation lacks authority to promulgate rules regulating traffic enforcement devices — invalidating a March 2015 court order to turn off or move several cameras.

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“That thing has had about 100 lives so you never know, but right now it’s dead,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

Also Friday, backers of a plan to provide taxpayer-funded accounts for parents seeking to enroll their kids in private schools still held out hope for the issue. But Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said he did not expect the issue to move in the Senate Education Committee he chairs.

“We haven’t found enough support for that yet among Republicans and Democrats in either the House or the Senate. Different people had different ideas of what to do. There’s a limited number of dollars that we have as a state,” Schneider said.

“There are a lot of things we could do and there are only certain things that you can do with the limited number of resources that we have,” he added. “I don’t see a pathway for moving it forward this year.”

Earlier this year, a three-member subcommittee that advanced legislation to establish education savings accounts in July 2019 using state grants of about $4,042 that parents of eligible children in grades kindergarten to 12 could use to pay costs of sending them to non-public schools.

Supporters lamented the issue’s demise, saying they believed the so-called school vouchers would have improved educational quality for many Iowa children and provided choice options that would have gotten parents more involved in their educational development.

“You lay out your goals and your priorities for the session and you try to work and the reality is that a lot of times you don’t get everything that you want,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel.

Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, said backers fell short of lining up the votes they needed this session, but he expected they would continue to pursue the issue in future years.

“I’m just not going to give up,” he said.

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Another issue whose fate was hanging in the balance heading into the Legislature’s final weekend was legislation slated for Senate debate Saturday that would begin to phase out about $152 million in yearly state money to cities, counties and schools to “backfill” lost commercial property tax revenue as part of a bipartisan 2013 deal. (See story on page 1A.)

Whiter said the “backfill” issue could see floor debate in the Senate on Saturday. But House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, would only say “that’s still being discussed.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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