Iowa Considers Bill to Ban Deceptive Trespass on Agricultural Facilities

Des Moines Register writer Stephen Gruber-Miller reported earlier this week that, “With Iowa’s controversial ‘ag gag’ law on appeal in the courts, lawmakers are considering a narrower bill that would create a special trespassing crime for agricultural facilities.

“Supporters say the law is necessary to protect farmers from people who intend to hurt their industry while opponents say it harms free speech.

If the bill becomes law, it would be a crime to use deception to gain access to an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public ‘with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury‘ to the facility’s operations, animals, personnel, business interests or customers.”

The Register article noted that, “A first offense would be a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, while a second offense would be an aggravated misdemeanor, which carries a two-year sentence. The bill advanced unanimously out of a three-member House subcommittee Tuesday morning and an identical measure passed a Senate subcommittee Tuesday afternoon.

“The 2012 ‘ag gag’ law was struck down in January when a judge said it unconstitutionally violated free speech protections under the First Amendment. Iowa has appealed the ruling.

“That law made it a crime for journalists and advocacy groups to operate undercover at meatpacking plants, livestock confinements, puppy mills and other ag-related operations to investigate working conditions, animal welfare, food safety and environmental hazards, among other practices.”

Mr. Miller added that, “Rep. Bruce Bearinger, D-Oelwein, said he appreciates the narrowness of the new proposal.

“‘I think it is important to recognize that dishonest access to those properties is a huge risk,’ including the potential spread of diseases and bio-terrorism, he said.

“Iowa leads the nation in pork and egg production. It ranks seventh for beef and 12th for milk production.”

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