First things first — a shout out to my son John and all the other students being inducted into the National Honor Society tomorrow (Wednesday) night at Clinton High School — way to go, guys! This session we’re spending a lot of time talking about education reform in the legislature, and about making sure our kids graduate from high school ready for either college or a decent paying job, and while yes there is room for improvement I am really grateful that my son grew up in Iowa, because I am 100% sure that he got a better education at Prince of Peace and Clinton High than he would have across the bridge (nothing personal, Fulton, just saying….).
So congrats to John and his friends and his friends’ parents, and thanks to the teachers (all of the teachers, from pre-school on up) that helped make this happen — because of all of you, I know my son is ready for anything his future throws at him. (And I’m going to try really hard to get back to Clinton for the ceremony, assuming there’s no scary snow — I’m still feeling a little traumatized after this morning’s lovely four hour plus drive, going under fifty mph and watching cars and trucks slide off the road all around me. So we’ll see.).
I made it to the Capitol just in time for caucus,which is when all the House Democrats go into one room and all the House Republicans go into a different (slightly bigger, nicer) room, and then we all talk about each other. Ha, no, we don’t, what we actually do is talk about bills and the budget and debates and what we’re hoping to accomplish and things like that. Although this early in the session, there’s not much to talk about yet, and so it was a short caucus. But just in case anyone out there was wondering what it means when legislators talk about “going to caucus” — that’s what it means. We sit in a room and talk, or sometimes argue with each other, or sometimes check our emails while we wait for everyone else to get there.
Moving on …. so you know what doesn’t bug me as much as it bugs a lot of other people out here? The automatic traffic camera system — the camera takes a pictures of a vehicle that is speeding or slides through a red light, and then a ticket is sent to the owner of the vehicle, who is responsible for paying it whether or not he/she was driving.
I’m certainly not a big fan of Big Brother, but for some reason I just can’t get all that excited about this (although full disclosure, Clinton doesn’t yet have any of these cameras so that may have something to do w/my lack of outrage). It’s a civil penalty, not a criminal or traffic offense, so it doesn’t impact car owners’ driving records or insurance. And if you don’t pay it, the cities can’t take away your driver’s license or seize your tax refunds the way the State can. And cities that use the system claim that it cuts down on accidents, or at least some accidents (I’ve heard suggestions that while there are fewer side impact accidents there are more rear end accidents, but I haven’t seen those numbers). And it does make a bunch of money for the cities who have installed the cameras, and frees up law enforcement to do more important things than write speeding citations (although I’d be interested to know if the number of moving violation tickets actually has dropped in cities w/these cameras … because if not, then so much for that argument).
One thing I don’t like about this system is that all of the cities using these camera systems have contracted with out of state venders, who install the cameras and process the tickets and get a really big percentage of the money that is collected (normally 40%). That’s a lot of money leaving the state — we need an Iowa company running these operations! Maybe someone from Clinton County wants to look into it?
Except there might not be a future in it, since several legislators are trying to shut the cameras down. But since Iowa is a “home rule” state, local governments normally get to decide whether and what kind of traffic devices to install in their jurisdiction (the state government can regulate the fines, to some extent, but that’s about it). So one of my colleagues filed a bill seeking a constitutional amendment to take away the right of local governments to use automated traffic cameras. Which is bold, but amending the constitution is a BIG DEAL, and taking the right to make these kind of decisions away from local governments is a BIG DEAL, and perhaps there’s a less drastic way to address people’s concerns. If nothing else, it’s an interesting conversation, and I am sure there will be plenty of conversation about the pros and cons of the automated cameras in the weeks to come.