Government

Iowa Senate rejects traffic camera ban

But beefs up state regulations, direct revenue to safety

Traffic cameras are installed on signs northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. More than 60,000 tickets were issued from that traffic camera location in 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic cameras are installed on signs northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. More than 60,000 tickets were issued from that traffic camera location in 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A bipartisan group of Iowa senators Wednesday night decided against banning traffic enforcement cameras but instead agreed to subject them to stricter regulation in hopes of curbing some of the concerns that have been associated with the 79 cameras operating statewide.

Sixteen Democrats joined 11 Republicans in supporting an amendment offered by Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, to replace a proposed outright ban with what Zumbach called a “common-sense, logical” approach to keep in place systems that promote safety and protect law officers. There were 17 majority Republicans, four Democrats and one independent who opposed the effort to regulate rather than eliminate the traffic cameras in nine Iowa communities.

“I am very disappointed, but that does happen,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who spearheaded the effort to take down “gotcha” cameras that he called “vindictive,” unconstitutional infringements on Iowans’ due process rights and money-making enterprises for foreign-based companies that take 46 percent of the revenue from speeding and red-light violations.

“It’s hard to lose, especially when you’re in the majority,” Zaun added before senators voted 31-18 to send the revised Senate File 220 to the House for consideration. “It’s unfortunate because I thought we had a great opportunity,” Zaun added, but 17 Democrats and 14 Republicans approved the bill on final passage while 14 GOP senators, three Democrats and one independent voted no.

“I think this is very needed, and we need these cameras,” said Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a retired law officer who called the traffic-enforcement devices a safety enhancement for officers patrolling dangerous streets and highways.

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, credited the cameras with creating a deterrent and changing behavior for motorists who drive too fast or run red lights.

Sen. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, said the cameras significantly reduced crashes, injuries and fatalities in his community in the past 10 years.

However, independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan said the revisions ran counter to GOP objectives of smaller government and personal freedom, telling his Senate colleagues “let’s not get lost in the group hug for Big Brother.”

The revised Senate File 220 would subject fixed and mobile camera deployments to state approval in high-crash, high-risk highway locations and direct profits to infrastructure improvements and public safety efforts within the jurisdictions operating cameras that issue revenue-generating tickets.

It also would require advance signage at approved camera locations, justification reports, weekly calibration of electronic traffic monitoring equipment, and officer review of citations. It also capped civil penalties so they do not exceed the existing fine schedule for speeding violations and would “grandfather” cameras at locations approved by the state Department of Transportation before Jan. 1.

Zaun said the changes would not eliminate the abuses by communities using the cameras as revenue generators or address the due process concerns associated with tickets being issued to the owner of a vehicle. He said the cameras in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Sioux City, Windsor Heights and Polk County generated $13.6 million in revenue last year.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, countered by citing improved roadway safety in Cedar Rapids, adding “we really can’t put a price tag on life.”

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