Hours after the Iowa Senate advanced Senate File 519, the Iowa House took the measure to its floor. All but one Republican in the House supported the bill, with Republican Rep. Jeff Shipley voted against it.

Fourteen Democrats joined almost all of the Republicans in support of the bill.

This bill comes on the heels of a federal district court decision that overturned a 2012 agricultural production facility fraud law. Unlike that bill, this bill will take into consideration whether a person intended to harm the facility or owner.

“This is a very important bill,” said Republican Rep. Jarad Klein.

The House took a vote to conform the House version with SF 519. That passed, which made the bills identical. After that House File 649 was substituted for SF 519.

Democrat Rep. Bruce Bearinger spoke in support of the bill after having served on the subcommittee.

“It’s an unfortunate bill, but in this era with a high risk of bio-terrorism and the extreme need for bio-security and extremism, it’s an important bill to protect our agricultural entities across the state of Iowa,” Bearinger said.

Democrat Rep. Liz Bennett ripped the bill, however, calling it another ag gag bill that hopes to silence whistle blowers and consumer advocates.

“This bill gives the middle finger to free speech, consumer protection, food safety and animal welfare,” Bennett said.

Noting Iowa’s previous ag gag bill was struck down because it was ruled unconstitutional, she said proponents of this bill are still trying to silence people by creating a crime of trespass.

“Interestingly, these trespassers would not be trespassing in the normal sense of the word,” Bennett said. “In this case, an actual employee of an operation could be guilty of the crime of trespassing. What sense does that really make?”

Bennett said she’s concerned with the loose language in the bill regarding intent to cause other injury. The person would not even have to publicize an investigation, simply intending to investigate constitutes a crime.

“Which is basically in my book a thought crime,” she said. “I’m sure big ag really doesn’t want people to see images of baby piglets grabbed by their feet and slammed against the concrete, but this has happened.”

Bennett said she believes only a few producers truly fear the sunlight of free speech. Criminalizing whistle blowers shows absolute contempt for consumers, she said. She talked about how this bill would apply to puppy mills. She predicted the bill would be ruled unconstitutional and added she’s a “hell no” on the bill.

Democrat Rep. Sharon Steckman asked Klein how one would prove deception.

Klein said it comes down to a case-by-case basis. The evidence, he said, would have to prove it.

Steckman said the bill smacks in the face of freedom of speech.

Klein closed the conversation by noting how narrow and limited the bill is.

“It only prohibits false speech that is intended to cause harm,” he said.

Currently Klein said somebody could go and intentionally infect a herd and cause widespread death across the state and long-term economic harm.

“This is crucial for the future of the state of Iowa and for the future of agriculture,” Klein said. “To compare this to turn-of-the-century practices I think is very harmful to the reputation of Iowa’s modern ag production facilities.

“Farmers out there in today’s world are doing it better than we’ve ever done it before and we’re going to do better tomorrow instituting scientific practices and great animal husbandry around the state. I encourage my body to vote hell yes on this bill.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall