Iowa House panel moves away from banning traffic cameras

Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 northbound near J Avenue NE as seen in an aerial photograph i
Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 northbound near J Avenue NE as seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Legislation to prohibit traffic enforcement cameras got a yellow light Wednesday as a House subcommittee advanced the bill, but members indicated they anticipate regulating the devices rather than banning them.

Although he has concerns about the cameras, Public Safety Committee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, conceded they may serve the public interest so he’s willing to look for middle ground — something less than an outright ban, but more than the largely unregulated use of cameras to catch motorists who speed and run red lights.

“There are some of these cameras that are definitely useful for safety,” Klein said during a hearing on House Study Bill 125. “But I also think there are a lot of them out there that are being used as a revenue-generating source.”

Speakers told the subcommittee revenue is being used to hire police officers, pay for cities to upgrade equipment — such as radios that can be a part of a statewide communication system — and other public safety priorities.

While it remains to be seen how Klein will modify his bill, lobbyists for Iowa cities that have cameras and the companies that supply them encouraged legislators to establish a regulatory framework rather than a ban.

Scott Weiser, a lobbyist for Redflex Traffic Systems, encouraged the subcommittee to move in the direction of the “best practices bill,” to regulate the cameras. That’s House Study Bill 36, sponsored by Transportation Committee Chairwoman Ashley Hinson, R-Marion. That bill, he said, includes protection for the due process concerns some people had regarding enforcement.

Iowa courts have addressed some concerns about the cameras, but Pete McRoberts of ACLU of Iowa, which is calling for a total ban, said legislators represent “all the people, so your scope is much broader.”


He said the Department of Revenue is being used to withhold tax returns to pay for camera-generated citations. That’s an abuse of power, not public safety, he told the House subcommittee Wednesday.

In some areas, such as the S-curve on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids, “it’s simply too dangerous for motorists and officers to run traditional traffic enforcement,” the city’s lobbyist, Gary Grant, said.

Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City, opposed the ban for public safety reasons. He didn’t sign the bill.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, signed the bill despite being torn between concerns over public safety and civil liberties. He also questioned whether cities should be allowed to place cameras on the interstate system.

David Adelman of the Metropolitan Coalition, which represents large cities, also called for moving in the direction of Hinson’s bill. Cities support allowing cameras in school zones, construction zones and other high-risk areas, and requiring signs between 500 and 1,000 feet before each camera to alert motorists.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, plans to move ahead with his bill to ban the automated enforcement devices. His push for a total ban stalled last year, but he said he believes it will have more support this year despite the retirement of Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids.

Another bill proposing a total ban, HF 253 by Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, has been assigned to Hinson’s Transportation Committee. No subcommittee has been assigned.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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