Iowa Legislature Overrides Eminent Domain Reform Veto

Historic Event Secures Greater Property Protection

PRESS RELEASE: July 14, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Iowa Legislature convened in special session to override Gov. Tom Vilsack’s June 2 veto of House File 2351.  The legislation, which passed both legislative houses once again with overwhelming bipartisan support, reforms the state’s eminent domain laws by prohibiting local governments from taking homes and small businesses for economic development while moderately strengthening the state’s blight laws. 

“We applaud the Iowa Legislature for its momentous overriding of the Governor’s veto to ensure that private property can be afforded meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court last year.  “Iowa legislators understand what their governor does not—Iowans deserve to be safe from the government’s wrecking ball.”

HF 2351 originally swept through the House by a vote of 89-5 and by a margin of 43-6 in the Senate.  Today both houses reconfirmed their commitment to protecting private property by overturning Gov. Vilsack’s veto with a 90-8 vote in the House and a 41-8 vote in the Senate.

“This is truly a historic event for property rights, as the last time the Iowa Legislature overrode a veto, John F. Kennedy was president,” said Steven Anderson, Coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the Institute’s grassroots advocacy project.  “It signifies the broad support in Iowa to rein in the awesome power of eminent domain for private development.”

The bill prevents the condemnation of homes and businesses unless 75 percent of the properties in an area are designated as “blighted” under state law.  Unfortunately, this means the bill continues to allow for the taking of perfectly fine homes and businesses if they are located in an area with significant blight.  In addition, the bill exempts the state’s largest ongoing development projects.

“Let’s hope that next year the Legislature finishes the excellent job it started so all Iowans can be confident their homes and businesses are safe,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney with the Castle Coalition.  “By passing this bill, legislators acknowledge that—contrary to the governor’s misguided belief—increasing private property protection benefits economic development.”

In Kelo, the nation’s highest court permitted the use of eminent domain for economic development.  Since the June 23, 2005, decision, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation limiting the government’s eminent domain powers in instances of private use.  Twenty-seven governors have signed reform legislation into law.  Iowa, Arizona and New Mexico are the only states whose governors vetoed eminent domain reform, and Iowa is the first to override such a veto.

Bullock concluded, “The bottom line is that today’s reforms will go a long way toward preventing the abuse of eminent domain in Iowa.”`