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Ban on most Iowa traffic cameras advances
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Ban on most Iowa traffic cameras advances

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DES MOINES — A Democratic Eastern Iowa senator Monday accused his GOP counterparts of voting to “defund police” by approving legislation that would ban most traffic enforcement cameras, cutting ticket revenue that cities use to fund public safety.

“I have listened all summer long how the Democrats want to defund the police,” said Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford. “This bill in Des Moines alone is going to cost them $3 million in revenue that goes back to the police department — our public safety.”

Kinney’s point fell on deaf ears, however, as nine GOP senators voted to advance Senate Study Bill 1176 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helping it clear a crucial deadline before Friday and placing it on the Senate debate calendar for future action. Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, joined five Democrats in opposing it.

SSB 1176 seeks to bar Iowa communities from using automated traffic enforcement systems, reviving lawmakers’ on-again, off-again attempts for years to regulate or eliminate them.

A new provision of the legislation, however, would let cameras stay along the dangerous S-curve on Interstate 380 by downtown Cedar Rapids — the only concession Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said he was willing to make.

Other speed and red light cameras in the city would have to go if the bill does become law.

Some lawmakers see the cameras as traffic safety tools that allow police to focus on other crimes while others slam them as cash-generating constitutional violations.

Currently, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Chester, Waterloo, Independence, Le Claire, Davenport, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids operate traffic-enforcement cameras. Officials with the state Department of Transportation say Prairie City and Fayette are close to installing cameras, and a vendor provided the department with a list of seven other Iowa communities also close to installing them.

“I think we’ve seen this bill before,” said Zaun, in floor managing another legislative attempt to remove the devices, which capture video of cars speeding or running red lights so local law enforcement can review the images flagged and issue citations to the registered vehicle owners.

Zaun said the bill is not intended to promote breaking traffic laws and he lamented being on the opposite side of law enforcement on the issue. But he added that “unfortunately, I think these cities and towns and counties have really taken advantage of a situation and they’ve become more about revenue than actual safety.”

Kinney, a retired law enforcement official, said he appreciated that Zaun included the exemption for the Cedar Rapids’ S curve cameras, noting that officers from Johnson County often would be summoned to assist with crashes there.

However, he said, “this goes deeper to me. This is going to the question now of defunding the police.”

Kinney pointed to a bill Republicans are advancing that would halt state funding to cities and counties that cut local law enforcement budgets, noting that SSB 1176 would essentially do the same thing.

“Now we are looking at striking that from the police departments and ultimately affecting their budgets,” he noted. “Where is the money going to be made up from?”

Under the bill, local authorities using automated traffic enforcement devices would have to stop using them and remove them by July 1, but SSB 1176 would not invalidate traffic tickets issued before then.

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