Government

Fate of traffic cameras in Iowa faces another deadline

Lawmakers look for deal: off limits or more limits?

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel
Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel
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DES MOINES — The light for automated traffic cameras is yellow.

The state Senate voted 30-19 Tuesday to ban the devices, which are used in several Iowa communities including Cedar Rapids. The State House, though, has its own plan — not to ban them, but to impose strict regulations and scoop up a big portion of the revenue they generate for the state rather than the cities.

This is at least the seventh year in a row that the two chambers have differed in their approach to traffic camera programs, and as a result neither have banned them nor imposed the rigid regulations.

With the debate continuing in the Iowa Capitol, next week could be pivotal in reaching a compromise. April 5 marks a key deadline for proposed bills to have gained sufficient traction to proceed for further consideration this legislative session.

Generally, those who call for the ban envisioned in Senate File 343 say traffic cameras violate the spirit of due process — an individual’s constitutional right to face his or her accuser — and allege the cameras are as much about generating revenue for the companies that make them and local governments that deploy them as they are about increasing safety.

Supporters contend the cameras make roads safer by discouraging bad driving habits where they are deployed, often at dangerous intersections or crash-prone stretches.

“I don’t know that I can share a lot that’s new on this front, other than I have serious concerns that Iowans aren’t being protected,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who supported the ban.

Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said he will gauge support in the House for an outright ban, but his initial impression is there is not enough support in that chamber for one.

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Klein thinks senators may be amenable instead to a proposal that more closely resembles an amended House plan, House File 674, to add regulations and send a chunk of the ticket revenue to the state Department of Public Safety.

“The idea is to get rid of those cameras that are the ones that are really there just to generate dollars,” said Klein, who said his personal preference is for a ban. “If we can get that dark cloud of suspicion away from this and really have just cameras that are purely (for) safety issues, I think a whole lot of Iowans are a lot more comfortable” with that outcome.

Either a ban or added regulations that usurp a large portion of what has been local revenue for the state instead would spell bad news for the Cedar Rapids city government.

Cedar Rapids has seven traffic camera locations. Three are on in-town streets that monitor speed and red-light infractions. The more prolific cameras at four locations on Interstate 380 have been off since April 2017 in a court dispute.

But Mayor Brad Hart said recently the I-380 cameras on either side of the S-curve through downtown would be turned back on “soon.” Camera program revenue would be used to hire 10 police officers.

The city projects generating $4.7 million from the cameras in fiscal 2020, from which it would pay its camera vendor $1.7 million. But under the state House plan, the city would be allowed to keep only $1.2 million — not the full $3 million.

If either legislative proposal is to remain eligible for consideration, it must pass through a committee of the opposite chamber by the end of next week.

In other words, the Senate proposal must pass a House committee, or vice versa.

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