Dan Zumbach

Should they stay or should they go? Iowa Senators debated the fate of traffic enforcement cameras for nearly an hour tonight, dramatically ditching a proposal to ban the cameras.

Instead, senators voted to let the cameras remain, with the fines used exclusively for public safety or roads.

Senator Dan Zumbach, a Republican from Ryan, touted the traffic cameras along Interstate-380 in Cedar Rapids.

“Those traffic cameras have changed people’s habits,” Zumbach said. “…The road is safer because of those cameras.”

Senator Kevin Kinney, a Democrat from Oxford who’s a Johnson County Deputy Sheriff, said the cameras are helpful on congested highways where law enforcement cannot safely pull drivers over for speeding.

“I’ve had to tackle a state trooper to get him out of the way of vehicles coming at us,” Kinney said.

Traffic cameras have passionate critics, too. Senator David Johnson, an independent from Ocheyedan, ridiculed colleagues who voted to keep the cameras going, calling the Senate debate a “group hug for Big Brother.”

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, has tried for years to pass a bill to outlaw traffic cameras.

“I am very disappointed, but that does happen,” Zaun said. “…I call these ‘gotcha cams.'”

The first automated enforcement cameras were installed in Iowa about a dozen years ago. Since then, legislators have debated bills that would limit fines as well as legislation to completely ban the cams, but there’s never been a final resolution.

Critics say out-of-state companies that review the video and mail out the citations are making too much money from the cameras. In late January, the chiefs of police in Iowa’s two largest cities told senators the cameras in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids had been placed on interstates where it’s not safe for police to pull drivers over and ticket them for speeding.