DES MOINES – Traffic enforcement cameras used to monitor red-light and speeding violations along state highways passing through Iowa cities or counties will be subject to state regulations beginning next Wednesday.
The Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee heard nearly 100 minutes of testimony Friday concerning the rules proposed by the state Department of Transportation but took no vote to delay their implementation next week. Currently, traffic enforcement cameras are used in 11 local jurisdictions.
However, the new DOT rules may have a short shelf life, based on Senate President Pam Jochum’s expectation that the split-control Legislature may take action this year to regulate the cameras and the possibility that at least one affected city could go to court to challenge the DOT’s authority.
“We believe that the DOT does not have the authority to implement these rules,” said Justin Vondrak, an assistant Sioux City attorney who spoke in opposition to the rules at Friday’s meeting. “I can’t say what my city council will do but, if I had to guess, we’ll challenge these.”
Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, told DOT Director Paul Trombino that she believed his executive-branch agency was over-stepping its authority and violating constitutional home rule rights of cities and counties by imposing state regulation on the operate of automated traffic enforcement devices.
“I truly believe that the department has no law to hang its rules on that they are proposing. It is up to the Legislature to write the laws and set the policies on our streets and highways in this state and I believe the department has overstepped its authority by proposing rules,” she said. “It’s up to our legislative branch to make those decisions, not a bureaucrat.”
Trombino said the agency’s power to set rules was confirmed by his legal staff and the Iowa Attorney General’s office. DOT officials will work collaborative with communities who submit annual reports by the end of April to adopt strategies that best assure safety on state highways, which could include the use of traffic enforcement cameras.
The DOT rules require a six-part justification for the implementation, placement and use electronic enforcement devices on the state’s primary highway stem. The standards include provisions relating to motorist safety, signage and effectiveness.
Approval for automated systems only will be considered in a school zone, in areas with a documented high-crash or high-risk location, or an intersection with a significant history of crashes attributed to red-light running or speeding.
Opponents contended the DOT standards for the approval were vague and arbitrary and granted the agency too much discretion in decision should be based on local control and local circumstances.
DOT officials said the rules are designed to provide oversight and base decisions on traffic-safety engineering and planning, not revenue or other considerations. DOT official Steve Gent noted that Iowa is the only state that has permanent cameras mounted along the interstate system.
Jochum noted a House committee has passed a measure that would authorize automatic traffic enforcement devices on state and local highways, require signs that alert drivers to the presence of cameras and establish a uniform fine system for red-light and speeding violations caught on camera. A similar measure was being drafted in the Senate Transportation Committee, she said.
“I am hoping the Legislature will indeed set some statewide standards in terms of fines, in terms of signage and in terms of where they actually can be placed so we are not setting up drivers from fines that aren’t necessary,” Jochum said.
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