CEDAR RAPIDS — A proposal to ban traffic cameras throughout Iowa — except on the dangerous S-curve on Interstate 380 in downtown Cedar Rapids — got the green light Thursday from the Iowa Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.
Senate Study Bill 1176 seeks to bar Iowa communities from using automated traffic enforcement systems, reviving lawmakers’ on-again, off-again attempts over the years to regulate or eliminate them. Some lawmakers see the cameras as traffic safety tools that reduce public safety costs, while others slam them as cash-generating constitutional violations.
It is not the first legislative attempt to ban the devices, which capture video of cars speeding or running red lights so local law enforcement can review the images and issue citations to the registered owners.
The city of Waterloo made more than $556,000 from its 12 traffic cameras in calendar year 2020, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald told the City Council recently.
The council Feb. 15 approved a $4.1 million deal for police body cameras and other equipment, planning to fund the project with new revenue that would come from doubling the number of traffic cameras in the city.
Fitzgerald proposed adding 10 to 12 cameras, with 40% of traffic camera revenue going toward toward law enforcement technology upgrades and 60% to the city’s general fund.
Council member Dave Boesen at the time expressed concerned about the city’s ability to pay for the “very expensive” program if the Legislature bans the cameras or taxes them.
City attorney Martin Petersen said the city has an option to end the agreement early if needed. The contract allows Waterloo to withdraw if the department does not receive sufficient funding.
The bill proposed Thursday by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, would require local authorities to remove the devices by July 1, the start of fiscal year 2022. It would not invalidate traffic tickets issued before then.
In addition to Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, nine other Iowa communities have automated traffic enforcement systems, according to Steve Gent, the Traffic and Safety Bureau director with the state Department of Transportation.
They are Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Chester, Independence, Le Claire, Davenport and Muscatine. Prairie City and Fayette are close to installing cameras, Gent said, and a vendor provided the department with a list of seven other Iowa communities also close to installing the devices though there may be no agreement yet.
Republican subcommittee members Zaun and Jason Schultz of Schleswig voted to send the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, opposed.