Iowa House approves eminent domain rules: Quad-City Times (Davenport IA), 2/18/06

By Dan Gearino

The Iowa House passed new rules this week that would sharply curb local governments’ power to acquire private property through eminent domain.

The bill, approved 83-15, says that local governments must have the consent of the property owner to acquire land for commercial purposes, with few exceptions.

The measure was inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in Kelo vs. New London, in which the court found that a Connecticut city government had the authority to use eminent domain to acquire private property for an economic-development project.

Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, said the court ruling has chilling implications that require immediate action by the Legislature.

“I’m hearing a roar” from Iowans who want stronger property rights, he said, at the beginning of a four-hour debate.

Meanwhile, the Bettendorf and DavenportOne chambers of commerce announced that they are taking a stand against the state’s efforts to change the eminent domain law. Both chambers, which represent thousands of business owners in the Quad-Cities, believe the use of eminent domain for economic growth — when used properly — is an important tool to grow Iowa’s economy. Lawmakers in Des Moines are debating this week on scaling back the power of local governments’ ability to use eminent domain to take over private property.

“The rights of individual property owners are extremely important, but so is civic redevelopment,” said Scott Tunnicliff, Bettendorf’s chamber president. “Cities and counties in Iowa have been extremely reluctant to use eminent domain, in part because of the barriers already in place to prevent abuse by government. We are concerned that some state legislators may be seeking to end abuse where none exists.“

Both chambers are encouraging their members to contact their legislators and ask them to oppose any new restrictions on eminent domain that will hamper urban redevelopment efforts.

“Unintended consequences of further restrictions on eminent domain would impede efforts to rebuild Iowa communities, causing more problems than they intend to solve.” said Dan Huber, DavenportOne CEO.

Quad-City Times: www.qctimes.net