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Iowa Senate approves traffic camera regulations

Iowa'c Capitol during the late afternoon
John Pemble / IPR
The Iowa Senate approved regulations for traffic cameras that automatically issue speeding tickets.

The Iowa Senate approved regulations for traffic cameras that automatically issue speeding tickets Monday, sending the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her signature.

The regulations follow more than a decade of efforts by some lawmakers to ban automated traffic enforcement systems.

The bill would require cities to get permission from the Iowa Department of Transportation to install speed camera systems that issue tickets. The department would determine whether the system is appropriate, necessary and the least restrictive way to address traffic safety issues at the proposed camera locations.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, managed the bill’s passage.

“I think we’ve set up a very robust regulatory framework that will … require cities and municipalities to prove concept, to prove that they need to have these traffic cameras at these locations,” he said.

Tickets could not be issued unless the driver was going more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, and the bill would limit how much drivers can be charged for speeding tickets.

There would have to be signs posted notifying drivers of the cameras, and most data collected by automatic license plate readers would have to be deleted within 30 days. Cities would also have to review and approve a photo or video captured by a traffic camera system before a ticket is issued.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said the bill was a long time coming.

“We were in such a tie-down of ban or no ban that this came to make sense,” he said. “There is a need for automated traffic cameras, especially in the urban areas.”

The Legislative Services Agency was aware of 25 cities and towns in Iowa that were operating speed camera systems as of January 2024. These cities would have to submit justification for their cameras to the DOT, which would then decide by Oct. 1 if cities can continue to operate their systems.

Local governments would have to provide an annual report to the state and the public including the number of traffic accidents at each camera location and the number of tickets issued. Cities would have to use the revenue from those tickets for transportation infrastructure improvements or for police or fire department services.

Cities with a population of 20,000 or less could only have mobile speed camera systems to issue warnings, not tickets. At least two cities, Buffalo and LeClaire, would have to remove their mobile systems, leading to revenue reductions of 33% and 20%, respectively.

The bill passed 46 to 1 in the Senate, with the only no vote from Republican Sen. Lynn Evans.

According to the LSA, the potential reduction in city revenue under this bill is unknown because it’s not clear how many cameras would be approved by the DOT.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, managed the bill in the House last week, where it passed 85 to 12.

“While I certainly would prefer to ban these outright, the longer we sit around and do nothing about this, the longer we see these systems being abused across our state,” he said.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, opposed the bill, saying her city had some concerns about it.

“I would think if the city is using the [automated traffic enforcement] they should be the ones to decide what to do with the money,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re taking away local control.”

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, supported the bill. He said traffic cameras are needed to improve traffic safety in some areas, and the bill would address “bad actors who wish to nickel-and-dime Iowans.”

“This technology not only saves lives by reducing high-speed accidents, but it also protects our first responders by minimizing risky traffic stops,” Scheetz said.

The ACLU of Iowa has supported banning automated traffic enforcement systems because of concerns about due process rights, but the group’s policy director Pete McRoberts said the bill is a step in the right direction.

“Right now it’s the Wild West, and cities are getting away with highway robbery, literally, through the really unbridled, and, we think, unethical and unlawful use of this traffic camera collection program that they have,” McRoberts said. “So yes we would love a full ban, but at the end of the day, we support any oversight.”

IPR's John Wanamaker contributed to this report.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter