Send eminent domain bill back to the drawing board: Clinton (IA) Herald, 6/7/06


With one stroke of his executive pen, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack on Friday vetoed the eminent domain restrictions approved earlier this year by the Iowa Legislature. The result is that nothing has changed from where we were six weeks ago, except now several Republicans are mad at the Governor for yet another reason.

This is of interest to us in Clinton because many people, including our mayor and state senator (political opponents as of today, of course, as she seeks his seat) have intimated the power may be needed to acquire South Clinton properties as part of the Archer Daniels Midland/Metabolix PHA plastics plant.

It was concern about the ADM project — and its $280 million investment, not to mention millions in annual salaries — that was the main reason lawmakers passed the laws in April while voting not to enact them until October.

If lawmakers felt so strongly about the need to protect the rights of property owners, then why not make the rules effective immediately? By agreeing to delay them for six months, lawmakers basically conceded that such laws could have damaging effects on important capital projects such as this ADM expansion. They were more than willing, it seemed, to risk the future of unannounced efforts, no matter how great the promise, but had no desire to stymie that which already was on the drawing board.

We continue to believe this process can and should happen without eminent domain as did the last South Clinton buyout, but that’s not today’s issue. Today’s issue is why other states — notably Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Connecticut — can reach reasonable compromise on eminent domain legislation and yet Iowa’s 150 lawmakers and governor are unable to do the same.

Is it because, at just four months, the legislative session is too short to give due focus to important issues? Is it because election year politics played a larger part than an honest concern for what’s right? Is it because Iowans are so much more complicated than Minnesotans and Nebraskans that crafting a compromise policy would be too daunting a task? Is it because Iowa’s law was simply a knee-jerk reaction to a Supreme Court case that originated in Connecticut and therefore does not address a tangible problem in this state? Is it because the power is divided so evenly at the Statehouse that the majority party has a total of just two more votes between both chambers?

Or is it simply because no one with the power to make laws has done a good enough job learning what eminent domain is about, why we do or do not need it and what it should or should not be used for?

This issue does not require a special legislative session, as top lawmakers from both parties have indicated. It requires all elected to officials to spend some time over the next few months looking at a wide variety of sources — private property owners, commercial, residential and industrial developers, city administrators and elected officials, economic development officials and similar legislation in other states — and heading back to Des Moines in January with a blank slate and fresh ideas about what can be done to make this right, that is if anything needs to be done at all.

This time, let’s do it right.

Clinton Herald: http://www.clintonherald.com