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Iowa Senate Votes To Ban Traffic Cameras; House Considers Regulation

senator jake chapman
John Pemble
Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, led the Senate's debate on a proposal to ban traffic cameras Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

This story was updated at 11:55 a.m., Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

Iowa senators voted Tuesday to ban traffic cameras in the state for the third year in a row. But the proposal is not likely to gain enough support in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have considered regulating traffic cameras.

Those who support banning traffic cameras say they violate due process rights and are a money-making scheme for local governments.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the self-described “poster boy” on this topic, said it’s the right thing to do.

“I want to make it very clear: our traffic laws are there for a reason. They need to be obeyed,” Zaun said. “But I have to stand up when our citizens are being taken advantage [of] by these ‘gotcha’ cams.”

The bill passed the Senate 30 to 19, with two Democrats joining the majority and three Republicans joining the minority.

Some opponents of the bill say traffic cameras are important for road safety and should be regulated by the state, not banned. 

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said she recently got a ticket from a speed camera, and she still opposes banning them.

“I deserved it. I was going, I think, 76 [miles per hour] in a 60,” Celsi said. “Every time I hear ‘Danger Zone’ on KIOA I get a little crazy on I-235. When I get those tickets, I say to myself, ‘slow down.’”

Celsi said the cameras also free up law enforcement officers to focus on things other than traffic violations.

Lawmakers in the Iowa House of Representatives narrowly failed to advance a bill Wednesday to regulate traffic cameras with a 12-11 vote in the Appropriations Committee. It needed 13 "yes" votes to advance.

The bill would require local governments to justify their placement of cameras, install signs to notify drivers of the cameras, and require a law enforcement officer to review the footage before issuing a ticket. Local governments would also have to provide a process for appealing tickets. Some of these new regulations would only apply to traffic cameras installed after January 1, 2020. 

The House bill also requires local governments to use 40 percent of the traffic camera ticket revenue for public safety, and give the remaining 60 percent to the state.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said it is a "financial disincentive" to discourage communities from installing traffic cameras for monetary gain. 

Fiscal analysts estimate that will reduce local governments' traffic ticket revenue by $6.5 million each year, and transfer that amount to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said forcing cities to give up a large portion of their traffic camera revenue is an "unfair power grab." 

It is not clear if the House and Senate will reach an agreement on traffic cameras this year. 

This story was corrected to reflect the fact that the 12-11 vote in the House Appropriations Committee means the traffic camera regulation bill did not advance. A previous version stated the traffic camera regulation bill advanced out of the committee. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter