Officials in Council Bluffs, one of eight Iowa cities that utilize automated traffic cameras, are keeping a close eye on the Iowa House, where legislation awaits action that could limit the use of the devices and/or allocate a portion of revenues generated by the cameras to the state.
The latter is almost laughably ironic in light of the ongoing short-sighted comments by some state lawmakers that the traffic cameras are a “cash grab” by city governments.
Legislation that would ban any use of the automated traffic cameras statewide has been approved in the Iowa Senate for the second year in a row. The Senate-approved legislation is one of two efforts that would control automated traffic cameras eligible for debate in the House.
According to Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, the House bill would add regulations on the use of the cameras by cities and allocate 60 percent of any revenue generated by the cameras to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
The Senate-approved legislation is, in our view, an extremely short-sighted solution to a problem that exists only in the minds of some senators — a view that, at least in Council Bluffs, is underscored by the numbers. Rather than installing the cameras to catch those who ignore the red lights, the city could randomly assign police officers to those intersections to cite violators.
Those who run a red light and are caught on a traffic camera pay a $100 fine. Those who are cited by a police officer face a $100 fine along with surcharges and court costs that raise the total closer to $200. We find it difficult to agree that the use of the city’s red-light cameras constitutes a “money grab.” Rather, we see it as a cost-effective means of addressing an ongoing problem.
The House bill is, in our view, doubly ironic.
As with the Senate, some in the House have viewed the use of automated cameras as a “money grab” by cities. Last year, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau estimated that the Senate-proposed statewide ban on the automated cameras would cost local governments about $12 million annually. Suddenly, some in the House see that $12 million as means of buoying up a cash-strapped Iowa Department of Public Safety. Given the ongoing state need, the “money grab” has become a “cash cow.”
Equally as ironic is the House bill’s attempt to add state regulation to cities utilizing the cameras. Last May, the Iowa Supreme Court shot down an effort by the Iowa Department of Transportation to regulate use of speed-detecting cameras on highways and interstates located inside city limits.
“Suppose the cities decided to station numerous patrol cars on (interstates and highways within city limits) to catch and ticket speeders,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote. “Could the IDOT issue a rule banning that practice on the grounds that it has ‘jurisdiction and control’ over these roads? Clearly not.”
The same argument should, in our view, support decisions by local governments rather than the Iowa Legislature over the use of red-light cameras.
Automated traffic camera regulations approved by the Senate and proposed by the House do nothing to improve enforcement of existing laws or improve traffic safety. The annual effort should once again die in the House.