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Traffic camera ban won’t advance this session

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES — An effort to ban the traffic enforcement cameras used in Cedar Rapids and other Iowa communities has become roadkill in the legislative rush hour to meet a funnel week deadline.

Debate on the measure, designed to ban cameras used to enforce traffic laws at busy or dangerous intersections and monitor speeds on streets and highways, was canceled Wednesday when proponents couldn’t come up with 51 votes.

Floor manager Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, spent the afternoon bending ears and counting votes before pulling the plug on the bill. He suggested that the bill was a victim of partisan politics.

“I was pretty sure I had a good, solid Democratic contingent on board before today,” Rogers said, conceding he didn’t have the necessary 51 votes from his 60-member Republican caucus. “What I learned was that (Democrats) decided to make it a partisan issue … so we don’t have the full amount of votes to pass it and that’s where it’s at.”

Democrats disputed that. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said his caucus had not taken a position and had not discussed nearly 20 amendments to Rogers’ bill. However, Democrats who might have supported the bill backed off when word came from the GOP majority that it would not accept any amendments.

Support for the bill was fluid. Rogers had claimed 51 votes Tuesday but was still searching for votes Wednesday afternoon.

Had the measure been approved, though, its future in the Senate did not appear rosy. Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, indicated he had no meetings planned before Friday’s “funnel” deadline. That’s the date by which non-spending measures must have cleared one legislative chamber and a committee of the other to remain eligible for consideration this session.

“I don’t know what’s going on. We’ve dispensed with all the bills we’ve got,” Rielly said. “Everything that’s in our box we’ve dealt with. I don’t know what’s going on over there.

“I don’t know why it’s taken them this long to try to get something over here. They’ve had since January to get something over here,” he added, even though the Senate was still sending bills to the House on Wednesday.

The issue was seen as one of safety versus personal freedom.

“I still go back to our (Iowa) flag and our motto: Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain,” Rogers said.

However, supporters of red-light and speed cameras say they have dramatically reduced the number of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities and have encouraged drivers to be more conscientious about obeying the traffic laws.

Jessica Harder of the Iowa League of Cities said her members see traffic enforcement cameras as a safety measure. Whether to have the cameras, Harder added, is a home rule issue for local governments.

“I do care about the safety,” Rogers said. However, he called it “good old-fashioned common sense” that an officer should have to issue a ticket.

“It goes to fairness, it goes to due process, it goes to liberty,” he said.

In discussing the issue, Rogers said, he’s found that even people who support the use of cameras “hate these things. They hate them.”

It’s more than the fear of getting a ticket, he said: “It goes to our sense of fairness and liberty is why people don’t like them.”

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