On Tuesday, the Iowa House and Senate passed an Ag Protection Act, House File 589. This legislation will protect livestock and grain producers from individuals from obtaining employment under false pretenses to conduct an investigative sting operation similar to last year’s events at an Iowa egg farm and a pig operation.
The Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI) registered in favor of this bill and assisted other farm groups to pass the legislation. “Iowans appreciate honesty and ag employers appreciate honesty as well,” said Jeff Schnell, AAI CEO.
The original version of the bill, which saw extensive debate and was passed by the House last session, would have made it illegal for undercover videotaping at farms or other animal operations in Iowa. The Iowa’s attorney general’s office advised state senators that the bill in its original form would most likely face constitutional challenges due to the rendering possession or distribution of audio or video recordings illegal. Previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme established ruled that films exposing animal cruelty are protected under free speech.
State senators, Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport and Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, worked to amend the bill and substituted a provision that does not deal with audio or video recordings but instead creates a new crime: Agricultural Production Facility Fraud.
If signed into law, a person who obtains employment under false pretenses with intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility can be found guilty of this new crime and face serious or aggravated misdemeanor charges. In addition, any individual or organization that aids a person in obtaining a job for an undercover sting operation would be prosecuted as well.
Critics, who have coined the phrase “ag-gag bill,” believe that this legislation and similar bills in several other states will hider transparency of food production. Producers, on the other hand, believe this law is necessary in order to protect their businesses and the state’s agricultural economy against activists who seek to cast their operations in a negative light instead of reporting and working to correct possible abuse immediately.
The revised bill was passed Tuesday afternoon by a 40-10 Senate vote. The House then passed the amended bill without debate with a 69-28 vote. The bill has been sent to the Governor’s office for signage. The Governor’s spokesperson, Tom Albrecht has stated, that while he has not decided if he will sign the legislation, Governor Branstad was impressed by the bipartisan support it received.