Staff Columnist

Senate traffic cam ban debate lacks zip

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)
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)

Usually, nothing gets the legislative juices flowing quite like banning something.

And this week, your Iowa Senate voted 30-19 to ban the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras, including those famous speed cameras installed on I-380 in Cedar Rapids. Thousands of pictures have yielded millions of dollars for Speeder Trapids.

But senators’ hearts hardly seemed in it. The vote came after just 35 minutes of bland debate. Not even kolaches handed out to mark Corridor Day at the Capitol could deliver a sugar high.

Maybe it’s because they’ve been here, done that. Three years in a row.

“Look, this has been going on for a long time,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who floor managed the bill, SF 343. He argued, once again, with some feeling, that “scam cams” amount to a money grab by local officials.

“Is it really about safety? Is it?” Chapman asked.

Maybe it’s because the debate was marred by feelings of nagging guilt.

“You know, I deserved it,” said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, who told the Senate she received a speed camera citation just this week. She was clocked doing 76 in a 60 mph zone on I-235, an admission that elicited “oohs” from the chamber.

“Every time I hear ‘Highway to the Danger Zone’ on KIOA, I get a little crazy on 235,” said Celsi.

Point of order: That’s actually a lyric from the 1986 Kenny Loggins hit “Danger Zone.” Celsi voted against the ban, arguing cameras free up law enforcement resources and improve highway safety.

Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, admitted he was ticketed in Delaware for using his cellphone while driving, but learned his lesson. Whiting voted for the ban, but would rather see cameras regulated.

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And maybe Senate debate lacked zip because senators know the House is unlikely to go along with its ban. The House is considering a bill that would slap tight regulations on cameras while directing 60 percent of camera revenues to the state’s public safety budget. Cities don’t like that idea. Cedar Rapids leaders were hoping to use camera revenue to hire 10 police officers.

“Adding 10 police officers in Cedar Rapids doesn’t help in my district,” said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota and lead backer of the House bill, last week. “We’re all paying for (traffic citations), so we all should benefit.”

Point of order: Klein’s district includes much of Washington County, home of Riverside Casino & Golf Resort. As we heard, repeatedly, during Cedar Rapids’ failed bids for a casino license, thousands of Linn County gamblers are keeping Riverside afloat.

And yet, precious few of the millions of dollars Riverside’s nonprofit has handed out in charitable grants over the years have made it to Linn County. Upgrading a school computer lab in Keota or installing a new scoreboard in Washington really doesn’t help Cedar Rapids. Life is unfair all over, Rep. Klein.

But Cedar Rapids might be willing to trade its cameras for a water park. Let us know.

So ban or regulate? Or do nothing again? A legislative deadline — a danger zone — looms next week. “The further on the edge, the hotter the intensity,” Kenny Loggins sang.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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