2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Proposal to regulate traffic cameras hits snag

Report: Iowa House plan would have cost Cedar Rapids $2.4M

Traffic flows Nov. 20, 2018, under the automated traffic cameras on Interstate 380 southbound near J Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids. These cameras have not been issuing speeding tickets since a court dispute in early 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic flows Nov. 20, 2018, under the automated traffic cameras on Interstate 380 southbound near J Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids. These cameras have not been issuing speeding tickets since a court dispute in early 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A plan for the state to strictly regulate traffic cameras — and take the lion’s share of the ticket revenue away from cities with the cameras — is hung up at a red light.

House File 674, which emerged from the House Public Safety Committee on a unanimous vote, failed to secure a majority of votes Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee.

Committee members voted 12-11, with two members absent, in favor of the bill. But 13 votes are needed for the 25-member committee to send legislation to the full House. Twelve Republicans voted for it while 10 Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

The lone Republican opponent, Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who is against traffic cameras, said later he was not trying to kill the bill and will offer a motion to reconsider it when the committee meets again. It is not scheduled to meet until next week.

“I want it to come to the floor and ban them,” Wills said of his strategy.

That’s what the Senate voted, 30-19, to do Tuesday for the third time in as many years.

Ten Iowa cities — Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Waterloo and Windsor Heights — have automated traffic cameras. The House bill would grandfather in the locations of those cameras.

While key lawmakers say there are discussions going on between the House and Senate, so far no one is compromising.

“I believe the Senate is willing to negotiate,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, who chairs the Transportation Committee in addition to sitting on the Appropriations Committee. Last year, she floor managed a bill similar to HF 674, but without requiring cities to share ticket revenue with the state.

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Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who floor managed the bill banning traffic cameras, Senate File 343, said it would be “highly inappropriate to close the door on discussion,” but he took a tough negotiating stance.

“I believe we — the Senate — have made very clear our position,” he said. “We rejected regulation last year. We feel very strongly.”

But the House plan is “not necessarily dead on arrival” in the Senate, Chapman added.

Lawmakers have discussed proposals to regulate or ban traffic cameras for at least seven years without resolution.

“Maybe it’s time to fix it or quit talking about it,” said Rep. Tim Kacena of Sioux City, the ranking Democrat on the Public Safety Committee.

Chapman agreed and offered a simple fix: “Pass the Senate file (to ban cameras) and it would be resolved.”

But not even that would end the debate, said House Public Safety Committee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota.

“If we ban them, cities will be back asking to overturn the ban,” he said. “If we regulate them, someone will want to redistribute the dollars. It will never go away.”

By requiring cities to forward 60 percent of the revenue they keep after expenses from camera-generated citations to a state public safety fund, Klein believes legislators can effectively ban what he calls “gotcha cameras” installed not to improve traffic safety but to raise revenue.

HF 674 would “remove this dark money cloud out from the cities,” Klein said.

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That “dark cloud” is the $16.6 million raised by the cameras in the most recent year data was available to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. Overall, the agency found that nine cities issued 299,415 citations in the most recent year for which it had data and collected $10,754,021.

The data also showed that Cedar Rapids, which had 28 of the 73 cameras in those communities, generated 124,346 citations or 40 percent of all the citations and collected $4,029,318 or 37 percent of the revenue.

The city’s most lucrative cameras, on both ends of the Interstate 380 S-curve, have not been issuing tickets since a court dispute in early 2017. But the city expects to turn them back on sometime this year.

More than a third of the overall $16.6 million — $5,890,105 — went to the vendors that supply the cameras and process the citations.

Data from Waterloo, which began operating cameras in September, was not available, the agency said.

Based on those numbers, the House plan to scoop up 60 percent of the revenue would cost those cities $6.5 million annually, according to the agency’s fiscal note.

In Cedar Rapids’ case, the 40-60 percent split with the state would have cost the city about $2.4 million of camera-generated fines in fiscal 2017 that was deposited in the city general fund.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee pointed out that by mid-April, cities must certify their budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — the same day HF 674 calls for the state to start scooping the revenue.

So Kacena wants to delay implementation of the revenue sharing for three years to get information on the impact on city budgets. In Sioux City, he said, every $70,000 sent to the state likely would increase the property tax bill on a typical home by $1 a year.

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“I don’t see the city council raising property taxes to replace that revenue,” said Kacena, a retired firefighter who noted the camera revenue supported fire stations and other public safety projects.

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

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