Iowa Senate Revisits “Dead” Policy Issues During Budget Debate

A traffic camera at 1st Avenue NE and 10th Street NE in Cedar Rapids is surrounded by snow on Sunday, December 19, 2010. (Matt Nelson/KCRG)


By Ellen Kurt

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate approved a standing appropriations bill Monday night by a 26-21 party-line margin after debating a number of stalled policy issues that backers made a last-gasp effort to revive.

Banning traffic enforcement cameras, exempting savings income from taxation and farmers from liability, expanding criminal background checks to businesses catering to children, and using state surplus money for critical road and bridge repairs got an airing during Monday’s wide-ranging debate.

Senators voted 20-27 to reject an effort by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, to prohibit automatic traffic law enforcement systems. Existing red-light and speed camera systems would have had to be discontinued and removed by July 1 under the amendment that failed to win a majority.

“The proliferation of these cameras is out of control,” Zaun argued. “We’ve got to correct a wrong here. Iowans are being abused.”

However, opponents said the enforcement devices have improved safety and should be a decision for local jurisdictions whether they want to have traffic monitored by cameras.

“This is home rule for cities,” said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville. “It’s home rule and it’s safety.”

During Monday night’s debate, senators turned back an amendment that sought to abrogate an Iowa Supreme Court decision holding that farmers who offer educational tours are not shielded from personal injury lawsuits under Iowa's recreational use law.

The court ruled 5-2 last February that the owners of a dairy farm could be sued by a chaperon injured when she fell through a hole in a hayloft during a kindergarten class field trip. At issue is a state law that bars injury lawsuits against landowners who open their land for public recreational uses such as snowmobiling and hunting.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said the court’s decision breached a trust relationship for landowners that existed for more than 40 years in Iowa. He said the amendment would make Iowa’s liability law “whole again.”

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, urged his colleagues not to “buy into the hysteria” over the court decision by providing broad immunity from liability that he called “an enormous over-reach.”

In other action, senators voted 21-26 to reject an amendment that would have exempted yearly savings of $100 per individual and $200 for married couples filing jointly from state income tax. Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said their current approach is “a penny saved is a penny taxed” and he believed the state could afford the $3 million price tag to exempt interest income.

Senators also voted 22-25 to reject an amendment that would have required a criminal background check for employees of businesses that operate a motor vehicle marketing the sale and dispensing of ice cream and other food products to children. Another amendment seeking to earmark up to $100 million in surplus funds for critical transportation needs was rejected by senators on a 13-34 vote.

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