Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal Jan. 26.
Iowa’s legislative obsession with traffic cameras continues this year. We have lost count of how many sessions have included time spent debating this issue.
On Jan. 23, the House Local Government Committee rejected regulation of red-light and speed cameras and approved a bill to ban automated traffic enforcement devices. The bill would void all local ordinances authorizing the use of traffic cameras as of July 1 and order their removal in eight cities and one county where they are used. A similar ban on traffic cameras passed a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and will be considered by the full committee.
As we have said before, our preference is for speed and red-light cameras to remain legal traffic enforcement tools within a uniform set of rules, including fines, in the name of public safety.
To this end, we support a bill the Senate passed (but the House didn’t) last year because we believe it’s a reasonable compromise on these divisive devices. That bill kept traffic cameras in place, but required local officials to justify placement of cameras on state and local roads and allowed the equipment only in high-risk and high-crash areas. Under the bill, money generated from traffic fines would have to be spent on road construction projects or public safety. A traffic camera regulation bill is under discussion in the House this year; to this point in this year’s session, regulation isn’t under discussion in the Senate.
As was his predecessor, Doug Young, Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller is (like us) a believer in the value of traffic cameras to making roads safer for drivers. In a wide-ranging discussion about local law enforcement issues with our editorial board last Wednesday, Mueller said he doesn’t care if they produce no fines at all because compliance, not revenue, is the goal for operation of traffic cameras.
Mueller said the No. 1 issue his department hears about from the public is traffic safety.
Even if this debate doesn’t turn out the way we want, we hope this is the last legislative session in which traffic cameras get discussion. Iowa lawmakers should make up their minds about whether to ban or allow them, put this issue behind them once and for all and move on to more important business.