Eminent Domain- Property Rights vs. Public Use

As Iowa continues to grow, our state will face many challenges. Currently, the house judiciary committee is working to address one of the main challenges facing both rural and urban Iowans, the issue of eminent domain.

This week House Republicans and Democrats held a subcommittee meeting to hear from people on both sides of the issue. The goal of the meeting was to learn more about the specific situations currently facing Iowans and how best to draft eminent domain language that will protect property owners but not stop growth around the state.

Eminent domain is the right of the state to take private land, with just compensation, for public use. While eminent domain laws are not new, they made headline news after the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). The Supreme Court determined that eminent domain over private land is justified by the community benefit of economic growth. Public use, as the court defined it, could mean projects that create jobs, increase revenue or revitalize downtrodden areas. The ruling gave states the final decision to either expand or contract eminent domain laws.

Many states took action after Kelo to protect property owners, including Iowa. In 2006, the legislature reformed part of Iowa’s eminent domain laws. Unfortunately, problems still persist and that is why the house judiciary committee is again addressing the controversial issue.

Monday’s subcommittee addressed issues Iowans are facing in Clarke County regarding a proposed reservoir. Land owners, engineers and community leaders presented their case. Some who own land in the proposed reservoir were concerned other options are being overlooked and that their land did not need to be taken, especially if the reservoir would serve multiple recreational purposes. Engineers and some community leaders believe that the proposal is the best option for development and water needs in Clarke County.

The legislation proposed during the subcommittee will change as the representatives learn more about the needs of each side. The goal of the legislation is to protect property owners and stop needless taking of land, while still allowing Iowa to grow. Another subcommittee will be scheduled and the public is invited to attend.