DES MOINES — It may not appear that he has much to show for it, but the Iowa Legislature’s most vocal champion of property rights, says the 2015 session was not a total bust.
Legislation to limit the use of eminent domain and make it more difficult for private companies to get state permission to build overhead electric transmission lines and underground pipelines across private property didn’t win the legislative support, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, believes the cause of property rights was advanced.
“We had a very successful year educating the public and shifting public opinion in our favor,” Kaufmann said. “We were successful in raising public awareness. As long as we bring attention to that project, I don’t think landowners will sign easements and if they don’t sign voluntarily I don’t see Iowa Utilities Board granting eminent domain.”
Despite the lack of approval for House Study Bill 249, and Senate File 506, Kaufmann thinks “momentum for property rights reform is definitely on the upswing.”
“Legislators who never spoke up on this issue have been coming to me with questions,” he said. Kaufmann also raises the issue with presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa, saying some have expressed an interest in the topic as a campaign issue.
The projects that were the impetus for legislation by Kaufmann and others are the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline that would carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil across 400 miles of Iowa each day and the 500-mile high-voltage overhead Rock Island Clean Line that would carry wind turbine-generated electricity across Iowa to communities to the east.
In the end, only a measure addressing the use of eminent domain for the construction of lakes for recreational purposes won legislative approval.
The eminent domain legislation was opposed by the projects’ sponsors, who argued the bills would change the rules in the middle of the permitting process.
Labor unions oppose the bills because the projects could create as many as 8,000 jobs.
“Construction projects are temporary, but construction careers are permanent,” according to Richie Schmidt of the Laborers International Union.
Support for the legislation came from property rights advocates as well as opponents of the specific projects who see further development of the Bakken oil fields as enabling dependence on fossil fuel.
Not all of them are as patient as Kaufmann.
“This is the only year, and the only chance” to pass new limitations, according to Jim Doorley of Iowa City. Unlike Kaufmann and legislative leaders, he’s convinced the projects will be greenlighted before the Legislature convenes in January.
“Obviously that conversation [about eminent domain] will be back again next year,” Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said on Iowa Press June 10.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, acknowledged there is some reluctance among lawmakers to take up the issue. The General Assembly last approved restrictions on the use of eminent domain in 2006, coming back in special session to override Gov. Tom Vilsack’s veto.
“That was a pretty hard fought compromise,” Gronstal said on Iowa Press, “and a lot of people that were here then say ‘Maybe we shouldn’t touch this.'”
Kaufmann plans to have at least one meeting of the House Government Oversight Committee he chairs to continue the discussion. He also wants updates on landowners voluntarily agreeing to easements.
“I think that will show us that it’s not a done deal,” Kaufmann said. “The only way the Rock Island Clean Line is a moot issue next year is if they pack it up and go home.”
This article was written by James Q. Lynch from The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.