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No Trespassing sign on chain in field AndrewJohnson/iStock/Getty Images

Iowa lawmakers send ag trespass bill to governor

Bill more narrowly tailored than previously challenged ag-gag rule that was recently called unconstitutional by courts.

In Iowa, the Ag Production Facility Trespass legislation passed in both the state’s House and Senate and would create a trespass charge for anyone who uses deception to access an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public.

The bill, approved by a strong bipartisan vote of 41-8 in the Senate and 65-32 in the House, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill March 14. Animal activists said the bill is a way to circumvent a previously struck-down ag-gag law that criminalized those who would conduct undercover investigations under false pretenses. Lawmakers said they studied the ruling earlier this year and drafted this legislation to make it similar to laws in other states that have been upheld by courts.

At Thursday's signing Reynolds said, “Laws like this help further the security and safety of our farmers.” 

On Feb. 14, 2019, the court declared Iowa’s Ag-Fraud statute unconstitutional under the First Amendment and placed a permanent injunction order on the statute going forward. Reynolds, Iowa attorney general Tom Miller and Montgomery County, Iowa, attorney Drew B. Swanson gave notice Feb. 20 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit of their intent to challenge the district court’s rulings.

Dal Grooms, communications director at the Iowa Pork Producers Assn. (IPPA), made it clear that this trespass law is not related to the Ag-Fraud law.That law is in the courts, so on a completely different path. This legislation is about trespassing with intent to do harm to animals or people,” Grooms said.

The law states that a person is committing agricultural production facility trespass if using deception “gains [him or her] access to the agricultural production facility, with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the agricultural production facility’s operations, agricultural animals, crop, owner, personnel, equipment, building, premises, business interest or customer.”

In a statement, IPPA, a supporter of the legislature’s new protection measure, said the bill is twofold as it is “narrowly focused to safeguard both pork producers and pigs from those who would be deceitful in an effort to physically or economically cause harm or injury to animals or people.”

IPPA added, “Pigs are currently vulnerable to threats of foreign animal diseases that could come to Iowa through people who don’t understand the need for strict biosecurity practices. It also protects farmers from those who would use deceitful practices to cause economic harm or injury to farmers. We believe Iowa should take measures to help farmers reduce their risks to such exposure, especially in today’s economic environment.”

Kevin Stiles, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council and Iowa Poultry Assn., said in a statement to Feedstuffs, "The Ag Trespass bill will help protect Iowa’s livestock and poultry farmers from those who wish to bring physical or economic harm to their animals or their facilities.  The bi-partisan support of the Iowa Legislature, and the Governor is appreciated. Their position indicates their understanding and support in protecting the rights of Iowa farmers."

Iowa Sen. Ken Rozenboom, the Republican who managed the bill on the Senate floor, said this measure is more narrowly focused than the 2012 law struck down by the court. In the years leading up to passage of the ag-gag law in 2012, there were at least 10 undercover investigations in Iowa. Since the law’s passage, there have been zero, the court document noted in the state’s challenge to overturn the ruling, which challenged that the first law was unconstitutional.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) encouraged Iowa citizens to oppose the bill's passage because it will be costly to taxpayers, considering that a similar law was struck down as unconstitutional in January 2019, the group said.

In a form letter to send to legislators, ALDF stated that bills such as these “have been struck down by federal courts in Utah and Idaho, as well as violating the First Amendment. Idaho was, additionally, ordered to pay $260,000 in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs who challenged its Ag-Gag law. Similarly, Utah was ordered to pay $349,000 for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. Iowa will likely face similar fees. I don’t want my taxpayer resources being used to pass -- and defend -- more unconstitutional ag-gag legislation.”

Following passage of the bill, ADLF director of litigation Matthew Liebman said, "Its intent is to silence critics of industrial animal agriculture."

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