The Iowa House late Wednesday approved legislation to put greater restrictions on the power local governments have to take private property for public purposes.
House File 2351 is a response to last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled governments can use so-called eminent domain to spur business development.
The bill moves for consideration in the Senate, where similar legislation is already being considered.
The House-passed bill looks like it actually does a nice job in tightening up the rules that have enabled well-connected developers to use government eminent domain power to force businesses and homeowners out of coveted property. If the HF 2351 becomes law, it will be very difficult for municipalities to condemn property solely for economic development. As best I can tell, HF 2351 doesn't have a worrisome loophole that was in the original Senate version of the legislation.
Its a great sign that majorities in both parties voted for the bill. I expected city and county governments would have their buddies kill any limits on their condemnation powers. What a great thing to be wrong about.
Not everyone is happy, though:
Des Moines City Attorney Bruce Bergman said the bill goes much further than dealing simply with the concerns brought up by the Supreme Court ruling.
"There are aspects of this bill," Bergman said, "that would quite frankly promote urban sprawl. There are certainly aspects of this bill that will make the property acquisition process more expensive for property taxpayers."
I would respecfully suggest that closing small businesses so as to curry favor with well-wired developers is pretty likely in itself to send the small businesses out of the city limits. As urban sprawl is a phenomenon going back at least to ancient Rome, city attorneys aren't going to roll back the tide by condemning ZZZ Records. If they really want to reduce sprawl, you'll do a lot better by improving city schools so families don't flee, and by making it as easy to get construction permits in Des Moines as it is in the fast-growing suburbs. For starters, anyway.
Mr. Bergman will be addressing my luncheon club, the Sertomans, March 14. If you'd like to see what he has to say about eminent domain, drop me an email and I will be happy to bring you as my guest.