Wednesday, January 18, 2006


A group of Iowa senate Republicans have introduced legislation (SSB 3008) to prevent the use of emininent domain to sieze property for private investors. The key element of the bill:

Except as specifically included in the definition inparagraph "a", "public use", "public purpose", or "public improvement" does not mean economic development activities resulting in increased tax revenues, increased employment opportunities, privately owned or privately funded housing and residential development, privately owned or privately funded commercial or industrial development, the lease of publicly owned property to a private party, or recreational development paid for primarily with private funds.

There is a loophole for "blighted" areas, if the building meets one of these conditions:

(a) Dilapidated, deteriorated, or deteriorating structures located on the parcel.

(b) Unsafe conditions or inadequate provision for sanitation.

(c) Existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes.

(d) Substantial deterioration of site.

(e) Tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land.

(f) Defective or unusual conditions of title.

(g) Use of the property that is detrimental to the public health, safety, or welfare.

The "welfare" bit seems ripe for mischief. Politicians can justify almost anything as being for the public welfare. While he bill does specify that the burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate that the building is "detrimental," I would feel a lot better without the word "welfare." Still, SSB 3008 is a serious effort to rein in municipalities in the wake of the awful Kelo decision.

It's unfortunate that this bill seems to be a "Republican" effort so far. Protecting small property owners is also supported by many Democrats not wedded to city and county power structures; Ed Fallon is a good example. The Iowa Civil Liberties Union, not noted as a Republican outfit, has declared itself in favor of the bill. The sponsors need bring Democrats into the tent on this. As closely-split as the legislature is, they'll need to, as some squish Republicans will no doubt oppose SSB 3008 to support their cronies in Iowa's city halls and courthouses.

The bill is clearly needed. Des Moines has already tried to condemn buildings owned by pioneering East Village entrepreneurs Brad Hamilton and Kirk Blunk. The fierce opposition to anti-Kelo legislation by city and county lobbyists and the Greater Des Moines Partnership shows that they're itching to use Kelo to take over attractive properties for their well-connected pals.

UPDATE 1/19: Des Moines Register coverage.

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