- Associated Press - Friday, April 27, 2018

The Iowa Department of Transportation does not currently have the authority to order cities to remove automated traffic-enforcement cameras from highways and interstates, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The state high court’s 6-0 decision reversed a state judge’s ruling last April that found the department did have that authority. Justice Daryl Hecht did not participate in the opinion.

The ruling comes on the appeal of three Iowa cities - Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Muscatine - of the judge’s ruling. Those cities had sought the judicial review in 2015 after the DOT ordered some speed cameras turned off when it determined that the cameras did not make interstate highways safer.

The three cities had argued that the department was infringing on cities’ ability to self-govern and that it lacked statutory authority to make rules regulating speed cameras.

The high court sided with the cities on those arguments, saying it was not persuaded by IDOT’s arguments that state law giving it “jurisdiction and control over the primary roads” extended to authority over traffic cameras.

“Suppose the cities decided to station numerous patrol cars on Interstates 380 and 235 and Highway 61 to catch and ticket speeders,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote. “Could the IDOT issue a rule banning the practice on the ground that it has ‘jurisdiction and control’ over these roads? Clearly not.”

The department also had argued that by not enacting measures to overturn the department’s traffic camera rules, the Iowa Legislature had tacitly endorsed them. The high court disagreed.

“We are unwilling to adopt a principle that whenever the Legislature declines to pass legislation overturning a rule, it has statutorily authorized that rule,” Mansfield wrote. “In 2014, the general assembly enacted a statutory ban on the use of drones for traffic law enforcement. This shows that the Legislature has the ability to enact laws regulating newer methods of traffic law enforcement.”

A written statement from the department conceded Friday’s ruling, saying it will no longer require cities to report to the DOT regarding traffic cameras and will not govern their implementation.

The ruling “places in the hands of the Legislature the decision on how to proceed” with traffic cameras, the department said.

The city of Muscatine issued a written release saying the ruling “supports the decision-making role of local jurisdictions who must, and should, have the authority to decide issues of local public safety.” No decision had been made on when the traffic cameras will be turned back on, the city said.

Administrators for the cities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids did not return phone messages by Friday afternoon seeking comment.

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