Last (Wednesday) night the Iowa House debated property rights and the likelihood that cities and counties in Iowa might abuse their authority to seize property for private developments, like a strip mall.
Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, says the legislature must act because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that local governments have broad authority to take private property for urban renewal or economic development projects. “Justice O’Connor says nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory,” Kaufmann says.
Kaufmann says that could happen in Iowa, and that’s why the bill is necessary. “What does this bill do?” Kaufmann asks. “In general, it comes down on the side of the property owner and guards against overzealous taking of property by government.” Kaufmann says the bill would give property owners more legal rights in instances when city or county governments want to seize or condemn property that would be turned over for private development. “Or better put, currently the government says: ‘I’m taking your property, tell me why I can’t,'” Kaufmann says. “If this bill becomes law, then this statement is then from the landowner: ‘You want my property, tell me why you should have it.'”
But the legislation is opposed by the Iowa League of Cities and the 17 largest chambers of commerce in Iowa. They argue Iowa governments aren’t abusing their powers to seize or condemn property and the bill may create new roadblocks to economic development projects. Representative Walt Tomenga, a Democrat from Johnston, says he wants to protect property rights, but the bill isn’t the right answer. “My concern is because of the complexity of this issue and of this bill, we do not know what the unintended consequences are going to be,” Tomenga says.
Representative Don Shoultz, a Democrat from Waterloo, says the bill is a slap at city councils and county boards of supervisors. “To make sure that our elected officials that we trust so well don’t go off half-cocked,” Shoultz says. “We have reacted and we have ripped off our cloaks and exposed our S’s to save the property (owners) of the State of Iowa.” The Iowa Senate last year passed a bill on this issue which took a different approach and it’s unclear whether Republicans and Democrats will agree on a compromise version this year.