116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Automated traffic enforcement cameras are once again the target of legislative proposals in what has become an annual tradition or lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol.
But the discussion sounds different this year, as some of the bills are not necessarily seeking to ban the cameras but instead regulate them and perhaps rein them in.
Whether that means this is the year — unlike in the past — that a traffic enforcement camera bill gets passed and signed into law remains to be seen. But to hear it from state lawmakers, it sounds, at the very least, those odds are increasing.
“It’s been at least six or seven years. I remember when I was first elected (in 2014) we talked about this a lot then,” said Iowa Rep. Brian Best, a Republican from Glidden who chairs the House Transportation Committee. “I’m not saying banning is out of the question, but I think reining them in is a more realistic approach to get enough votes to get something passed.”
Best’s comments are worth noting because over the years the legislative efforts to constrain traffic enforcement cameras has mostly been led by Senate Republicans. They have passed myriad bills, while House Republicans have been more or less silent.
Gary Grant, a lobbyist for the city of Cedar Rapids, echoed comments made by lobbyists, interested parties and lawmakers during a subcommittee hearing Wednesday in saying that he appreciates the way the tone of the traffic camera debate has shifted this year — for the most part.
“Overall, I think what’s encouraging is that it seems like we’re having a discussion about how these are best used, not whether or not they should be used at all,” Grant said. “So as a lobbyist who has been working on this for a number of years for the city of Cedar Rapids, it’s just encouraging that apparently the broad coalition that’s worked on these, from public safety to vendors to cities, has apparently done at least a decent job of making the case that these are effective law enforcement tools. So I’m encouraged by that.”
Among the proposals this year are bills that would require cities to prove there is a public safety need for where they place traffic cameras, and limit enforcement to speeding violations of 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit and cap the amount of revenue an agency can generate from tickets.
However, there still is also a legislative proposal to ban all automated traffic enforcement cameras. There was a legislative hearing on that bill Wednesday also.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman spoke at that hearing, expressing his strong opposition to a proposed ban. The city operates cameras in nine locations, including four speed cameras around the S-curve on Interstate 380 near downtown.
“I can state with 100 percent certainty that ATEs (automated traffic enforcement cameras) save lives,” Jerman said via video call. He said cameras in Cedar Rapids have reduced total crashes as well as crashes with injuries and fatalities. “Taking away this proven strategy is irresponsible. I’m very concerned that accidents will only increase and deaths will continue to spiral upward.”
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