An attorney who argued a controversial property rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court says Iowa homeowners need more protection from their government. Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice represented a group of Connecticut homeowners fighting their local government’s decision to condemn their land for private development.
Bullock says when the nation’s highest court ruled against those homeowners, they opened the floodgates.”Homes are already being taken for shopping malls,” Bullock says. “In July of last year the city of Sunset Hills, Missouri, outside of St. Louis, approved the condemnation of 85 homes and small businesses to give (the land) to a private developer to build a $165 million shopping mall.”
Bullock says Alabama, Texas and South Dakota have all strengthened their private property laws in the wake of the court case, and during remarks Tuesday afternoon to a committee in the Iowa Senate, Bullock urged Iowa lawmakers to follow suit. “Unless the law is changed in Iowa, these abuses will not only continue but they will increase,” Bullock says. The Iowa League of Cities opposes new limits on local governments’ power to condemn private property.
The League’s Susan Judkins says homeowners are well-protected under current law. “We think that Iowa’s law is very strong already,” she says. “However, we are cooperating with legislators to see if there are ways to put additional safeguards in place that don’t unduly shackle the hands of cities.” Judkins says cities must be able to condemn unsafe or blighted property in order to spur economic development.
Judkins says there’s no evidence to suggest Iowa cities and counties are abusing their powers to condemn property. “Fears that have been generated by this court case truly are unfounded,” Judkins says. The Iowa Chamber Alliance which represents the 17 largest city chambers of commerce in Iowa also opposes the effort to restrict local governments’ power to condemn blighted land for economic development projects. The Iowa House has already passed a bill that would place new restrictions on local governments in such cases. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.