A closer look at the Iowa House vote for traffic camera ban

After several hours of delay due to a suspicious powder mailed to State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad, the Iowa House passed a bill last night to ban local governments from using “automated traffic law enforcement systems.” The 58 to 40 vote didn’t follow the usual party lines in the chamber. The bill wouldn’t have passed without some support from House Democrats.

The effort to ban traffic cameras to catch speeders and drivers who run red lights nearly died before the second “funnel” in this year’s legislative session. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen saved the day by referring an earlier version of the bill to the House Appropriations Committee, which isn’t subject to the funnel deadline. House File 2450 is the successor to two earlier bills drafted to accomplish this end.

The lobbyist declarations show an unusual alliance supporting this bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa opposes a “surveillance camera culture” and objects to the fact that the car’s owner receives a ticket, even though someone else may have been driving when the infraction occurred. The Iowa Association for Justice, representing trial attorneys, also supported the ban. On the other end of the political spectrum, the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps object to the cameras as a violation of personal liberty.

Lobbyists opposing this bill represent the Iowa State Police Association, the Metropolitan Coalition, the city of Des Moines, the city of Cedar Rapids, and the Iowa League of Cities. Traffic cameras bring in approximately $3 million per year in revenue to the cities of Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan made the case for traffic cameras during Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program in March:

Glover: Mayor Hanafan, let’s switch gears if we could for a second.  There is an issue in the legislature that would prohibit cities from using what we call red light cameras.  Both of your cities have these.  Make the case for having them.  And what kind of revenue do you garner from it?

Mayor Hanafan: Well, we put in, for example, our main street which would be West Broadway and Highway 6.  We had a number of accidents, in fact, we had six deaths in the late ’80s along that stretch in a three year period.  One of the problems was speed and running red lights.  And so we looked at options that we could do.  So we put in — went to a company and dealt with them, they put in equipment and we were able to eliminate — our accidents are down about 35% in the areas that we have put in red light cameras.  That is a benefit to all of us.  And we have generated revenue.  We’re in about $3 or $4 million revenue that we received.  About half of that will go for property taxes and dealing with our operation.  The other half we use for safety issues.

Borg: $3 to $4 million a year?

Mayor Hanafan: Right.

Glover: Mayor Corbett, what is the experience in Cedar Rapids?

Mayor Corbett: Cedar Rapids has done the same.  We’re into a three year contract with red lights cameras at the intersections and also our speed cameras on Interstate 380 and we’ve seen the same results.  We targeted the intersections that had the highest number of accidents and those accidents are down.  And on Interstate 380 we had a big problem with accidents.  If the legislature passes the laws but they don’t provide any funding for local governments to enforce the laws that they pass, in this case we’re trying to use technology which is cheaper and more efficient than using actual police officers out there trying to stop people on Interstate 380.  We have about 50,000 cars a day, a month that go through Cedar Rapids and less than one percent are being ticketed.  So we’re not being obsessive, we’re not trying to gouge anyone, we just want them to obey the laws.  So what we’ve seen is a reduction in accidents and the same is true with the deaths on 380.  And the local community at first probably rejected a little bit, but as they have seen the results and they have experienced it personally getting on 380 and not feeling like it is a racetrack we’ve seen a general increase in the acceptance.  And so we hope the legislature respects our decision that we make locally.  They may not like it but —

Glover: How much do you pull in?

Mayor Corbett: We pull around $3 million a year from that and we’re using that similar to what Tom is.  Really we have to underwrite our police and pension funds that the legislature, again, requires us to fully fund from an actuary standpoint.  So we’re using some of the revenue for that.

The House debate showed that the Republican caucus was divided on this measure. State Representative Renee Schulte, who represents a Cedar Rapids district, hailed the cameras as an important safety measure on a dangerous stretch of I-380. Her GOP colleague Gary Worthan depicted the cameras as one step toward letting “Big Brother” implant a microchip under everyone’s skin to monitor daily movements.

The House Journal for April 3 (pdf) covers the floor debate on House File 2450. Democrats offered several amendments to the bill, all of which lost. State Representative Pat Murphy proposed changing the bill to supplement the road use tax fund with some of the money collected through the use of traffic cameras. Chuck Isenhart proposed letting anyone charged with a violation view “a video or other recorded images evidencing the violation” before the deadline for appealing the traffic ticket. Helen Miller and Mary Wolfe tried to replace the bill text with language establishing a moratorium on new traffic cameras while Iowa State University’s center for transportation research studies their use. Tyler Olson, who represents part of Cedar Rapids, offered an amendment to allow local governments to complete the terms of existing contracts for using traffic cameras. A second amendment from Olson would have allowed cities to keep using traffic cameras if they could certify that the system “has improved traffic safety” where it has been used. All of the above amendments lost by voice vote.

Two other Democratic amendments lost by roll-call votes. Andrew Wenthe and Chris Hall offered an amendment to allow traffic cameras but require local authorities to post large signs warning drivers where the cameras are being used. That amendment also would have required additional reviews of recorded images to ensure that a moving violation occurred. That amendment was rejected on a mostly party-line 54 to 42 vote. Republicans Schulte, Linda Miller, and Mark Brandenburg (who represents part of Council Bluffs) crossed over to support the amendment, while Democrats Kurt Swaim and Bruce Hunter opposed it.

Tyler Olson’s final amendment would have allowed a local government to keep using the system “if the authority submits an affidavit to the department of management on or before June 30, 2012, certifying that discontinuing the use of the automated traffic law enforcement system would create a need for additional property taxes to support operations and services of the local authority.” That amendment only received 39 yes votes: most of the House Democrats plus Schulte and Republican Dave Heaton. (Abdul-Samad was absent, having already left the chamber because of the suspicious powder mailed to him along with a threatening letter.) The 60 votes against the amendment came from the rest of the House Republicans and Democrats Swaim and Hunter.

The House was in recess for a few hours while law enforcement and hazmat teams dealt with the situation surrounding the powder sent to Abdul-Samad. Shortly before 8 pm, the final vote took place, and the bill passed 58 to 42.

Republicans supporting House File 2450: Dwayne Alons, Rich Anderson, Rich Arnold, Chip Baltimore, Clel Baudler, Josh Byrnes, Royd Chambers, Peter Cownie, Betty De Boef, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Joel Fry, Julian Garrett, Pat Grassley, Chris Hagenow, Bob Hager, Erik Helland, Lance Horbach, Dan Huseman, Stew Iverson, Ron Jorgenson, Jarad Klein, Kevin Koester, Mark Lofgren, Steve Lukan, Glen Massie, Brian Moore, Kim Pearson, Dawn Pettengill, Scott Raecker, Dan Rasmussen, Henry Rayhons, Walt Rogers, Tom Sands, Jason Schultz, Tom Shaw, Jeff Smith, Chuck Soderberg, Annette Sweeney, Jeremy Taylor, Dave Tjepkes, Linda Upmeyer, Jim Van Engelenhoven, Guy Vander Linden, Nick Wagner, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, Kraig Paulsen, Gary Worthan

Democrats supporting House File 2450: Mary Gaskill, Chris Hall, Bruce Hunter, Dan Kelley, Kevin McCarthy, Pat Murphy, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Kurt Swaim, John Wittneben

Republicans opposing House File 2450: Mark Brandenburg, Jack Drake, Greg Forristall, Mary Ann Hanusa, Dave Heaton, Lee Hein, Jeff Kaufmann, Linda Miller, Steve Olson, Ross Paustian, Renee Schulte

Democrats opposing House File 2450: Ako Abdul-Samad, Deborah Berry, Dennis Cohoon, Ruth Ann Gaines, Curt Hanson, Lisa Heddens, Chuck Isenhart, Dave Jacoby, Anesa Kajtazovic, Jerry Kearns, Bob Kressig, Vicki Lensing, Jim Lykam, Mary Mascher, Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Jo Oldson, Rick Olson, Tyler Olson, Janet Petersen, Brian Quirk, Mark Smith, Sharon Steckman, Todd Taylor, Phyllis Thede, Roger Thomas, Andrew Wenthe, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Nate Willems, Cindy Winckler, Mary Wolfe

It sounds like this bill will die in the Iowa Senate this spring:

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal has often said if you don’t want a ticket from one of the red light cameras in his hometown of Council Bluffs, you shouldn’t run a red light.

If Republicans take control of the upper chamber in November, I would expect similar legislation to pass both the House and Senate in 2013. GOP State Senator Brad Zaun has been an outspoken critic of the traffic cameras ever since he got a ticket for speeding despite the fact that his son had been driving the car in Cedar Rapids.

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  • too bad this bill is expected to die....

    I have to agree with those that oppose traffic cams…..

    1. it is about revenue, it is not about safety…(we all know this)

    2. real (controlled as for weather and other factors) studies show they do NOT reduce accidents….

    3. see #1 again

    4. liberty is taken away from us a slice at a time…

    5. see #1 again

    For more info, see the National Motorists Association website.

    For those that still don’t believe #1, ask why DSM did NOT put cameras at their most dangerous intersections, and why they are on one of the safest and straight area of the freeway.  A complete joke.