DES MOINES - State transportation officials will have control over the placement of speed and red-light cameras by cities and counties on state supervised highways and interstates under new rules that received final consideration from a legislative panel Friday.
The Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee, a group of five Democrats and five Republicans, reviewed the rules drawn up by the Iowa Department of Transportation. While some lawmakers questioned whether the state has the authority to set such regulations, the panel took no vote, which means the rules will go into effect Feb. 12.
Under the new rules, local agencies must show cameras are targeting "high-crash or high-risk locations." They would have to justify renewal every year.
In this Nov. 12, 2013, file photo, vehicles pass a highway sign along Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, warning drivers that the 55-mph speed limit is enforced by speed cameras. An Iowa legislative committee is expected to approve plans by the Department of Transporation to restrict the use of traffic cameras on state highways.
"Our rules are about developing processes for when to use these systems, not whether they are good or bad," said Steve Gent, the DOT's director of traffic and safety.
Iowa is the only state in the nation that allows cameras to be permanently installed along interstate roads or highways managed by the state. However, the state has no laws governing their use, leaving the decision whether to install them to county supervisors and city councils.
Across the state, the cameras produce more than 200,000 tickets and $13 million in fines annually.
Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, questioned the department's authority to implement the rules, saying she thought that any regulation should be the responsibility of the Legislature. DOT Director Paul Trombino said he had received legal advice that this move was within the department's powers.
Earlier this week, lawmakers in the state House began work on a bill that would regulate cameras. The bill would require local authorities to post notification of cameras and sets limits for the fines that can be charged. It has moved through the House Transportation Committee.
Jochum said the Senate also is working on a bill and that any legislation passed by the Legislature would override the new rules.
"I really believe this is a legislative issue and the department has overstepped its authority in putting forth these rules," Jochum said.
Nine Iowa cities as well as Polk County use automated cameras that ticket motorists who run red lights or exceed the speed limit. The cities are Cedar Rapids, Clive, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Sioux City, and Windsor Heights.
Local officials have criticized the rules, saying the state is taking away local control. They argue that the cameras are safety tools and dispute criticism that the cameras are used to generate revenue. Several police chiefs and city officials appeared before the panel Friday, opposing the rules.
"We believe that the city has the authority granted by the legislature to enforce the traffic laws on the primary roadways in our jurisdiction," Justin Vondrak, assistant city attorney for Sioux City, said after the hearing.
He said the city had not made any decision about what to do next.
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