Iowa legislators return to Des Moines today (Friday) for a special session to consider a property rights bill Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed in early June.
It takes a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly to override an Iowa governor’s veto. That means 67 of the 100 members of the House and 34 of the 50 members of the Senate must vote to override.
It is a step rarely taken. Harold Hughes was the last Iowa governor to have a veto overriden by state lawmakers. That happened back in 1963. Now, 43 years later, it appears an override will happen as the bill to be considered today passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities.
The bill would place new limits on the powers city and county governments have to seize private property for economic development projects. It was drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Connecticut case. In that case, a woman sued because her home was condemned and cleared by New London, Connecticut leaders to make way for a large development they said would bring jobs and new tax revenue to the city. That included a state park, office and retail buildings, the headquarters of a drug company and a huge parking lot.
The Iowa Farm Bureau has been leading the call for legislators to override Governor Tom Vilsack’s veto. Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Lang will be in the statehouse to watch today’s proceedings. “Our members are excited about the opportunity to end up with a bill that protects the rights of property owners. We’re a little sorry that it had to happen this way,” Lang says.
According to Lang, this bill has united farmers with homeowners, business people and others who worry their property will be condemned and seized and turned over to a private developer for a lake, or paved over to extend an airport runway so some executive can land their jet there a few times a year. “We don’t believe it is fundamentally right for someone else, whether it’s the government or not, to take someone else’s property for the economic gain of just a few,” Lang says. “That’s completely different than condemnation for the right-of-way of roads and power lines.”
On June 2nd, Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed the new restrictions on government “eminent domain” proceedings because he said it would hinder projects that create jobs. Lang says the negative reaction among Farm Bureau members was instant. “In the five years that I’ve been president I haven’t seen an outcry from our membership on this issue like we have seen on this issue,” Lang says. “Property rights were being jeopardized for economic gain and (Farm Bureau members) said ‘this just can’t happen.'”
But Dave Roederer, executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance. says the 19 largest chambers of commerce in Iowa are hoping the veto override just doesn’t happen. The Chamber Alliance has praised Vilsack for vetoing the bill. “We have consistently said that we believe that Iowa’s (current) law protects property rights but also allows for the use of (eminent domain) in a rare occasion for the betterment of a community,” Roederer says.
Roederer admits, though, that few legislators have been willing to work with Governor Vilsack and come up with an alternative plan. “I would say that it is a challenge,” Roederer says. “We’re hoping that legislators will think about what they’re doing because under the current path it’s only going to confuse things more not less.”
Like Governor Vilsack, Roederer contends that because of a technicality, legislators do not have the authority to act on the bill Vilsack vetoed and the issue will be tied up in the courts for years. Roederer, who was a top aide to former Republican Governor Terry Branstad, says overriding Vilsack’s veto will put all government condemnation proceedings and a myraid of economic development projects in Iowa on hold indefinitely. “So rather than go through all the legal hurdles, why don’t we come up with a compromise that’s workable for the State of Iowa?” Roederer asks.
Legislators of both political parties predicts the House will quickly and overwhelmingly vote to override Vilsack’s veto today, and key leaders in the Senate say they expect the Senate to follow suit. At 8:30 this morning, Governor Vilsack plans to hold a news conference at a Des Moines property that’s being developed, in part, on land that was part of eminent domain condemnation actions. At nine o’clock, a rally will be held inside the statehouse by those who’re pushing legislators to override Vilsack’s veto.