Iowa lawmakers say bill addresses speed camera use as ‘revenue generators’

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Posted at 10:13 PM, Apr 24, 2023

Republican senators advanced a new traffic camera bill that they said would allow local governments to use the technology to address real safety concerns while putting some limits on using cameras to generate revenue.

Lawmakers discussed Senate File 489 in subcommittee Monday. It would require local governments to obtain permission from the Iowa Department of Transportation before using automated or remote devices, like speed cameras, for traffic law enforcement. Cities and counties would have to set up permanent signs informing drivers that a camera or other device is set up is on the road.

Local law enforcement would only be able to issue warnings, not citations, for violations caught using mobile technologies. Local authorities would still be able to issue citations for violations caught on fixed speed cameras, and set limits on how much law enforcement can charge for speeding citations.

Lawmakers have been trying for over a decade to restrict the use of traffic enforcement cameras. Cedar Rapids installed its first speed cameras in 2010.

Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said lawmakers have to be very careful of “continual intrusion into local control.” According to a Legislative Services Agency report, 19 Iowa cities and towns use automatic traffic enforcement systems. Winckler said localities choose to set up these cameras to make their local roads safer.

“One of our first red light cameras in Davenport was done because it had a high accident ratio,” she said. “And they were able to cut it in half. And not only were they able to cut … the number of accidents in half, but they were also reducing the severity of those accidents as the result of the red light cameras. So it it was using technology to help keep individuals safe.”

But Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, disagreed.

“These are revenue generators, period. That’s it,” Dickey said.

The bill also requires local governments remit 10% of collected money from these systems, outside of installation and maintenance costs, to the state Road Use Tax Fund (RUTF). If this measure becomes law, Winckler said she worried the 10% remittance would take money away from public safety funding.

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, said Iowa cities are currently providing significant amounts of the funding generated back to the traffic camera companies. He said Des Moines gives $0.22 per dollar collected to the camera company, and Cedar Rapids gives $0.37 per dollar to the company. He said in earlier meetings on the bill, he told Iowa localities to renegotiate their agreements with traffic camera companies in light of the new RUTF costs.

“I would say on average it’s 25 cents of every dollar throughout the state that returned back to the speed camera company,” Klimesh said. “I’ve made it clear: I said if you want to go back and renegotiate, to be held harmless, there’s money on the table. … Go back and renegotiate with them. I mean, take that 10%, give them a less of a cut.”

If the bill becomes law, Cedar Rapids could lose more than $3.29 million in revenue, and both Des Moines and LeClaire could lose more than $1 million, according to LSA.

Dickey said he would prefer 25% of funds be taken from speed camera revenues to put toward supporting volunteer firefighters, emergency medical service providers and law enforcement, who he said “do way more public safety service than a speed camera.” He also disagreed with some of the concerns local governments raised about the bill creating more paperwork, citing the high revenues generated by these cameras.

Dickey said local governments told state lawmakers “it’s not about the revenue” when discussing use of speed cameras, but did not provide him or Klimesh requested information on funding generated through citations from these devices. LSA reported these technologies generated an estimated $8.3 million in local authority revenue for Cedar Rapids, $3.2 million for Des Moines and $2.4 million for LeClaire in fiscal year 2022.

“They don’t want that to be known,” Dickey said. “So I’m fully supportive of this bill, if it’s the only thing we can do outside of an outright ban.”

This bill is not banning cameras in cases like the Davenport speed camera example Winckler brought up, Dickey said. But there are other speed cameras through the state, like one in LeClaire “on a wild stretch of road, just off the offramp going into the city,” he said, that are just “revenue generators” not doing anything to provide safety.

Klimesh said they chose not to pursue a ban because there are situations where speed cameras can be used to help address public safety risks.

“If this was a ban, I would agree with you, Senator, that we are taking away and we are usurping local control,” Klimesh said to Winckler. “No, we are simply making communities go to a process to prove out that this will provide the safety.”

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will next discuss the bill. The House has its companion, House File 629, and another traffic camera bill limiting which roads localities can place cameras on, House File 628, available for consideration.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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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