DES MOINES | Iowa House members rejected a ban on automated traffic enforcement devices Wednesday, choosing instead to regulate the 78 speed and red light cameras that were, at one time, operating in either cities and one county.
However, the fate of the cameras used in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and other communities may be determined in the Senate, where the bill’s sponsor said he won’t be happy “until they are all gone.”
“I haven’t given up, but certainly there are other higher priorities around here,” a disappointed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said after the House voted 77-21 to allow cities and counties to operate the cameras in school zones, construction zones and other high-risk areas. “It might be time for me to give up the fight for this session.”
The amended House version now goes back the Senate, where a vote on the House version is uncertain, given Zaun’s opposition. It’s possible the issue will be shelved for this legislative session.
To further complicate the outlook for the cameras, the Iowa Department of Transportation has ordered cameras on state roads turned off, and the Iowa Supreme Court is considering an appeal of some of the tickets issued by the cameras.
In the Iowa House on Wednesday, Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, acknowledged defeat after House members voted down his amendment to ban the cameras, 55-43.
“I know I lost, but I’ll be back” next year trying to ban the devices, Highfill said. “As long as I’m here, I’ll be working on it. I’m kind of annoying like that.”
Instead of a ban, 40 Democrats and 37 Republicans voted for what bill manager Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, described as “safety, due process, personal responsibility and sensible regulation” of the traffic cameras. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the bill.
Senate File 220 requires:
-- Local governments that want to use cameras must justify their use based on data, including traffic speeds and volume and crash history.
-- A public hearing be held on placement of each camera.
-- Fines must the same as those from a citation issued by a law enforcement officer.
-- Revenue from fines must be used for streets, roads and public safety.
-- If the cameras are on a primary roads, the Department of Transportation must grant approval.
-- The cameras must be tested for accurate calibration each day, and local authorities are required to keep records of daily and monthly calibrations.
Highfill argued for a ban to stop cities from using the cameras as a revenue source.
“If they need more revenue, they should raise their taxes,” Highfill said.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, questioned whether the presence of the cameras was good for public safety. When they were turned off on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids, speeds increased but crashes decreased, he said.
Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who noted he has not had a moving violation since 2003, said banning the cameras was about protecting Iowans’ liberty.
“This is an issue about our freedoms,” he said. The cameras “deprive people of their due process and that’s wrong.”
Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said the Iowa Constitution not only outlines legislative authority but the right of home rule for cities.
“The Legislature already provides guidelines for statutory speeds in cities,” the former mayor said. “That’s all we should be doing. We should leave it up to the local elected officials to decide how they want to enforce those speeds.”
Sioux City has used automated cameras since June 2009 for red-light enforcement at a handful of intersections and since May 2011 for speed enforcement along Interstate 29. The city partners with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a Arizona-based contractor, owns and maintains the cameras and collects a cut of each fine, which starts at $100. The city's share of the revenue is estimated to total about $1.4 million in the budget year that ends June 30.
For the last several years, Sioux City has been fighting not only legislation to ban the cameras but also an Iowa Department of Transportation administrative order. The DOT directed the city to remove five cameras on state-controlled roads within the city, including the two I-29 speed cameras, after the state found that not all cameras led to a reduction in crashes.
The outcome of the city's appeal of the administrative decision is tied to a lawsuit over a similar DOT order to remove cameras in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Muscatine. Those cases are awaiting a ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court.