The Iowa Senate approved a bill that would ban traffic enforcement cameras in Iowa. Republicans Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Fort Dodge), Dan Dawson (R-Council Bluffs) and Dan Zumbach (R-Ryan) voted against the bill. Democrats Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) and Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) supported the measure.

Senator Jake Chapman (R-Adel) managed the bill through the floor.

Senator Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines) did not support removing the cameras.

“When people get a traffic camera ticket, I think it frees up our law enforcement to do other things,” Celsi said. “In fact, I know that. I’ve talked to Des Moines PD and they tell me that every day when I ask them. It also increases safety.”

Celsi called the bill “misguided.”

Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), who has carried the torch in this issue for years in the legislature, said he wanted to smile today.

“This is about due process,” he said. “Sen. Celsi, you can get as many of those tickets as you want if you’re wealthy. It doesn’t go against your driving record. It doesn’t affect your insurance policy. It’s really becoming abusive in the state of Iowa.”

Zaun said the abuses grow every year. He said Windsor Heights is the most abusive city in Iowa when it comes to traffic enforcement cameras. The speed limit on University Avenue dips down to 25 miles an hour in Windsor Heights. There’s a camera at the top of the hill and another about six blocks west at the bottom.

There’s a community in southeast Iowa with a population of a little more than 3,800 people. That town’s council recently considered a red light camera for the town square.

“Now I really question is there’s a lot of accidents around that town square,” Zaun said. “This is a money grab by these foreign-based companies.”

Zaun pointed out the CEO of one of those big companies is currently in prison in Illinois for racketeering.

“Most Iowans think the money is going into police departments and city budgets,” he said.

Instead, 50-60 percent of the revenue is going to the traffic camera companies.

“This is a racket,” Zaun said. “It goes against the principles in regards to presumed innocent until proven guilty. The fact is it’s the right thing to do. Our traffic laws are there for a reason. They need to be obeyed. But I have to stand up when our citizens are being taken advantage of.”

Senator Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) said he would prefer a bill that addressed specific concerns rather than an outright ban. He cited officer safety as one reason the cameras should stay.

“The truth is there are sections of interstate in Iowa that are very hard to police,” he said. “We’re putting officers unnecessarily at risk in those sections.”

Boulton asked Chapman if the bill allowed for exceptions in portions of interstates that are dangerous for law enforcement.

Chapman said it does not. He went on to discuss about the reasons for issuing citations. One being the fact someone has committed a crime and another being to immediately alter behavior.

“When you receive a ticket 30 days post violation of the law, you’ve neglected to address the issue for 30 days,” Chapman said. “So, are you having an immediate impact on changing a behavior? I would submit to you that it doesn’t change an immediate behavior. It fails to recognize a person could be intoxicated, but yet because they weren’t pulled over it was failed to be recognized.”

At the end of the day, the bill is about ending the abuse of cities and traffic camera companies.

“The reality is cities have abused this system,” Chapman said. “There has been egregious abuses where they’re using collection agencies to collect — state agencies to collect for a private company. That’s why we’re doing this.”

Senator Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids) said he would prefer regulation of the cameras, not a ban. He’s hopeful that the House will send a bill like that to the Senate.

Freshman Sen. Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake) said he would vote for the bill, but he is against a ban on the cameras.

“I’m going to vote for this bill to advance the conversation,” he said. “I don’t support banning traffic cameras, but I do support more heavily regulating them.”

Whiting cited a 2018 article in which the police chief of Sioux City said the cameras reduce speeds and impact accident rates.

“I think we need to do a better job of a party, as an institution, upholding the rule of law,” Whiting said. “The conversation I think needs to shift on this issue. It should be focused not on people getting caught on camera, but people breaking the law by speeding and running red lights. To all the people out there who are speeding, stop breaking the law.”

He chided cities and traffic camera companies for forcing the need for this conversation.

“You put yourselves in this place,” he said. “If you’d take the initiative to fix the system and build in due process and not shift to the civil realm, maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We need to fix this system. We need to regulate. I’ll vote for it today, but I hope we can come back — let’s not ban these things, let’s regulate them, do it the right way, build in due process and keep the citizens of Iowa safe on the roads.”

Senator Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) said he’s voted for getting rid of the cameras in the past, but has changed his mind. In his community, he said, they’ve added red light cameras.

“In my community, I think people are pretty fed up with individuals who run stop lights,” he said. “I know that this is an ongoing discussion in my community and I have seen a shift in peoples’ concerns.”

Chapman wrapped up the debate by thanking Zaun for bringing the issue to the forefront. He acknowledged Dotzler’s point that the cameras do change behavior, but agreed that change is in a very limited area.

He also said officers are trained to clock someone, follow them and initiate a stop where it is safe to do so.

“They won’t pull them over right over the top of the hill crest,” he said. “These are men and women who are well equipped and have been well trained in dealing with that type of scenario.”

Clive, he said, had cameras installed at intersections. There were 21 percent more rear-end accidents at those intersections.

“Clive was a good actor, recognized the fact that it was actually more dangerous to have these at the intersections, so they took them down. Good for them for doing it.”

Chapman said rather than gotcha cams, he refers to them as cam scams.

“That’s what they are, they’re scamming people,” he said.

His company received a citation from a camera, so he went back and reviewed the vehicles GPS data from the date listed on the citation.

“It just so happens that vehicle was down in southwest Iowa the entire day,” Chapman said.

The camera company eventually admitted the date and time was wrong.

On Interstate-235 one of the company’s vehicles was cited for going too fast.

“That same technology showed not only was it not speeding, we were going below the speed limit,” Chapman said.

Chapman then told a story about a man who lives in Des Moines. His car was stolen on Jan. 4 and he received two speeding tickets. He was told to go online and dispute the citations via an online form or scheduling a hearing.

He chose the online form and provided the officer’s card and the case number for the theft.

“He received a letter stating that he must attend a hearing,” Chapman said. “A guy who has to take off work, who had the unfortunate circumstance of having his car stolen — where’s the due process for that? How is that right? How is that justified?”

Chapman said there’s no disagreement that running a red light or speeding is a moving violation, but the citations do not reflect that.

“You can’t cite them criminally with an automated traffic camera because of the Sixth Amendment,” Chapman said. “So instead we’re going to do this little loop around and make it a civil penalty.

“Come on folks, we know what this is. Iowans know what this is.”

Pete McRoberts of the ACLU said the group is encouraged with the vote.

“Due process is for everyone, and the bipartisan vote in the Iowa Senate reflects a simple and strong statement — that constitutional rights and public never have to be in conflict,” he said. “Sincere thanks to the members of the Senate who have spent so much time and effort on this issue — they are protecting peoples’ rights.

“We are encouraged by this vote, and are glad to join so many other supporters of constitutional rights in Iowa who are once again putting due process front and center in communities statewide.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall