The Democratic leader in the Iowa Senate says the property rights bill Governor Vilsack vetoed in early June would have made it harder for cities to clear out neighborhoods blighted with pimps, drugs, strip clubs and pawn shops.
House GOP leaders intend to try to override Vilsack’s veto next Friday in a special session, but Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, is asking his fellow lawmakers to redraft the bill and make it easier for cities to seize sleazy property. “Cities have long had the power to use the power of eminent domain in neighborhoods that are slum or blighted neighborhoods, declining neighborhoods,” Gronstal says. “And let’s be specific about what that’s about. That’s about a city wanting to go into a residential neighborhood that’s filled with pimps and horrific drug problems and try and clean that neighborhood up.”
As written, the bill would require that 75 percent of the property cities seize in such neighborhoods be “slum” or “blighted.” Gronstal would prefer to let cities acquire more property that’s near such blighted areas in an effort to remake the entire neighborhood. “If you’re the neighbor (who) keeps your lawn mowed and keeps your house painted and takes care of it and your other neighbors aren’t, that’s your property rights being injured as well,” Gronstal says. “I think this bill goes too far in limiting the use by cities…(that) want to go into a commercial neighborhood that’s filled with pawn shops and strip bars and adult bookstores and they want to clean those kind of places up.”
But House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, says the bill Vilsack vetoed gives cities — and counties — enough latitude to clean up sleazy neighborhoods. “I’m not going to take the side of the crack houses or the pimps or anything like that,” Rants says. “In slum and blight areas, the bill does not eliminate the ability to condemn that property but for economic development purposes you have to have an area when the city council or county supervisors look at it, they have to say ‘Of this area we’re going to condemn, 75 percent of it has to be slum and blight.'”
Rants says “some people” are proposing the ratio be 50/50, which Rants says means cities would be able to condemn the property of landowners who’re keeping up their property, maybe running a “nice little” small business. “Those are the folks we’re interested in protecting.”
Rants and Gronstal made their comments Thursday night during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program which airs Friday night.