Iowa Supreme Court rules DOT can’t ban traffic cameras

Photo by Kurt Zenisek

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) does not have the authority to regulate traffic cameras. It was a 6-0 decision in favor of the cities of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine, who sued IDOT after the agency ordered automated traffic cameras removed from interstates in Iowa in 2015. Justice Daryl Hecht did not participate in the decision.

Lower courts had ruled in favor IDOT, but according to Justice Edward Mansfield’s decision, “IDOT did not have authority from the legislature to issue rules regulating [automated traffic camera] systems.”

The IDOT’s specific grants of authority are in other areas and do not support the rules. Moreover, any general authority over “regulation and improvement of transportation” is too broad to sustain the rules — particularly in light of the specific grants of authority in other areas.

Therefore cities such as Cedar Rapids will be allowed to keep using speed and red light cameras to issue tickets to motorists, regardless of the IDOT’s objections. The justices remanded the case to the Polk County District Court for further proceedings.

There are currently three more lawsuits over the use traffic cameras by Cedar Rapids and other cities.

In January, Iowa City attorney James Larew filed a lawsuit on behalf of several motorists seeking to have Cedar Rapids cancel its collection actions over unpaid traffic camera fines. The lawsuit argues that some of the collection actions violate state law, because municipalities are required to begin collection actions within one year of a fine being levied. It also argues that the city cannot impose the 25-percent fee to pay Municipal Collections of America, if the fee was not in place at the time the violation occurred. More broadly, the lawsuit argues that the process by which motorists can appeal a traffic camera ticket violates the guarantee of due process in the Iowa constitution.

The argument that Cedar Rapids’ use of traffic cameras violates the right to due process is also at the heart of the two lawsuits — Behm v. Cedar Rapids and Cedar Rapids v. Leaf — currently under consideration by Iowa Supreme Court. Larew represents the people suing the city in both cases.

Last month, Cedar Rapids began seizing the state tax refunds of people with unpaid tickets from the city’s traffic cameras. In September, the city council voted to send the names and Social Security numbers of people with unpaid traffic camera fines to the Iowa Department of Administrative Service’s offset program.

The offset program is used to collect debts owed to state and local government agencies. It seizes all state payments to an individual — including state tax refunds, lottery winnings and vendor payments — until the debt that was reported has been paid.

Since 2010, Cedar Rapids has issued more than 500,000 tickets from automated traffics — a record for any Iowa city — and more than 90 percent of those tickets were generated by the speed cameras located at the winding “S-curve” on I-380.

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