Traffic cameras — the bane of libertarian-minded motor-heads — is sitting shotgun in the Iowa Legislature. There's a sound bill running on reason and facts and another that speeds headlong into a fiery ideological crash.
The motoring enthusiasts among us understand Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun's frustrations with the increasingly prevalent enforcement devices. Drivers allegedly blowing a traffic light or speeding down a highway never even get to face their accuser. Instead, a ticket shows up in the mail. So much for due process.
Head to court and face the photos. Zaun's bill would end all that by banning traffic cameras statewide.
There's also legitimate concerns about the purpose of traffic cameras in many instances. Cities throughout Iowa have realized they are a relatively cheap method of generating revenue without having to add more cops. There are few better ways to erode public trust in police than the monetization of law enforcement. Add to that a slew of questionable deals with the private firms that operate the systems, and Zaun's general aversion is easily justified.
But not every traffic camera was installed simply as a cash-grab, a fact Iowa Department of Public Transportation admits. Many, including in Davenport, are demonstrably linked to fewer crashes at problematic intersections. It's a case local police chiefs and mayors have effectively made in defense of the oft-grumblesome technology.
Zaun, R-Urbandale, hopes to put the hammer down. A better competing bill, authored by Senate Transportation Committee Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, isn't so fast and loose.
Kapucian's legislation would finally provide state oversight over where traffic cameras are installed. Iowa DOT would approve locations, presumably based on crash and safety statistics. In effect, Kapucian's legislation would strip cities of the practice of setting up speed traps designed to pump money in to local coffers. Yet it wouldn't rob police of a tool that, the data show, has saved lives and money.
Police chiefs from Iowa's largest cities are strongly backing Kapucian's approach. The oversight the bill provides is but one piece. It also would require the more than $10 million in fines collected annually to be used on infrastructure. In so doing, speed traps would no longer be a quick and easy way to plug holes in the city budget.
Kapucian's started its journey Wednesday through the state Senate. Zaun's outright ban waits for a full vetting in the Judiciary Committee.
But, already, it's obvious that Kapucian's compromise deals in the facts. Zaun's is a matter of political ideology.
There's a legitimate argument about the constitutionality of traffic cameras. But they're yet to be successfully challenged. The questions about due process are a matter for the courts. So far, traffic cameras have a middling record at state-level courts throughout the country. Federal courts have yet to render a defining blow one way or another.
Kapucian's legislation grapples with that reality. It correctly asserts that, in too many cases, traffic cameras have been abused. But it also acknowledges the technology's upside.
Zaun's proposed ban lacks the legal foundation to justify the loss.