Chamber — Don't change eminent domain: (Mason City IA) Globe Gazette, 2/28/06

By John Skipper

The Mason City Chamber of Commerce is lobbying state legislators not to restrict a city’s right to exercise eminment domain.

Thursday is the deadline for filing bills.

Eminent domain gives cities the power to take ownership of private property for public use.

Robin Anderson, executive director of the Mason City Chamber, has asked members of the Mason City Downtown Association to join the Chamber in contacting area legislators in support of the current eminent domain law in Iowa.

Iowa Senate Republicans have filed legislation that would reduce the power of local governments to condemn property for economic development projects.

The move was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that strengthened the ability of local governments to use their eminent domain powers to take private land. Cities and counties have always been able to force property owners to sell private property for such public purposes as building streets or utilities.

But the Supreme Court ruled that economic development could be considered a public use. In that context, a local government could force the sale of one person's private property and then sell it to another private property owner as part of plan to grow a business area.

The GOP bill would specify that economic development does not constitute a public use in Iowa.

Backers said the bill would not affect condemnations that clear the way for uses that are more obviously public uses, such as school buildings, utilities and roads. But opponents say the proposed legislation could cut off legitimate public uses.

The Iowa Chamber Alliance, a coalition of development groups, opposes any change in the state's eminent domain laws. "We have yet to see anybody to show us the problem they're trying to fix," said Dave Roederer, a spokesman for the alliance.

Anderson said, “Our position is quite simple. Current Iowa law provides strong private property protection while keeping redevelopment costs to an affordable level. This protects taxpayer dollars and does not unduly enrich property owners.

“I hope the Senate will be aware of hasty decisions made by other states and recognize the strength of Iowa's current eminent domain laws. Our job at the Chamber and EDC is to focus on improving the business environment to directly impact main street and commercial businesses - specifically, to focus on ways to promote job growth, enhance our workforce, and create infrastructure for the future. The Legislature needs to be strategic in setting policies for economic growth by looking at every issue in this context,” she said.

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