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Senate sends bill on traffic camera regulation, DOT oversight to governor

By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

A bill regulating — but not banning — traffic camera use by local law enforcement was sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds by the Senate with bipartisan support Monday.

House File 2681 passed 46-1 Monday, with Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, voting against he measure. The bill gives the Iowa Department of Transportation oversight of how Iowa cities and counties implement automatic traffic enforcement (ATE) systems, like traffic cameras. Iowa local governments and law enforcement would be required to submit explanations as to why a traffic camera is needed at a specified location, including information on the number and severity of accidents, driving speeds and other potential public safety issues in the area.

Along with the camera permitting system, the bill also sets other rules and guidelines around traffic camera use, including prohibitions on localities with fewer than 20,000 residents using mobile traffic camera technologies to issue tickets and speeding tickets for violations that are not more than 10 miles per hour more than the speed limit. The bill would require warning signs to be posted between 500 and 1,000 feet before a camera. Local governments would also be required to use the funds that are collected for transportation infrastructure improvements and police and fire departments’ operational costs.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, said the bill has been “a long time coming.” Lawmakers have considered restrictions on traffic cameras in previous years, but those bills failed to advance, as did a measure proposed earlier this year by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, to completely ban local governments from using traffic cameras.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, thanked Klimesh for bringing forward the current legislation that brings “the concept of regulation” to the issue, and takes a more moderate stance on the use of ATE systems by requiring oversight while also acknowledging the legitimate need for these systems.

“We were in such a tie-down of ‘ban’ or ‘no ban’ that this came to make sense,” Bisignano said. “There is a need for automated traffic cameras, especially in the urban areas, where we have those — (Interstate Highway) 235. … But the fact is, is we also have to put law enforcement on that freeway, and that’s dangerous, as you can see. That would be the worst thing that I think you could be assigned to be a traffic enforcement on I-235.”

In House debate on the bill, Republican lawmakers expressed interest in taking further action to restrict traffic cameras — but said that the legislation represents immediate action on an issue causing problems for some Iowans.

Klimesh echoed these statements, saying that the bill, if signed by Reynolds, will allow cities and counties that have a legitimate need to continue using traffic cameras while addressing problems with the technology being misused for revenue generation.

“I think we’ve set out a very robust regulatory framework that will allow, and actually require, cities and municipalities to prove concept, to prove out that they need to have these traffic cameras in these locations,” Klimesh said.

– Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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