Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds this week signed into law what appears to be the third version of a so-called “ag-gag” law as the state continues to fight in court for its second version of the law.
The Iowa General Assembly passed a bill earlier this month that was signed by the governor on June 10, aimed at stopping undercover animal rights groups from entering livestock facilities.
The new law forbids what it calls “food operation trespass,” which is now a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses.
The 12-page bill includes two divisions: one on animal health and the second, food operation trespass, at the bottom of the legislation.
“A person commits food operation trespass by entering or remaining on the property of a food operation without the consent of a person who has real or apparent authority to allow the person to enter or remain on the property,” the new law reads.
The new trespass law does not apply to people entering a right-of-way if they have not been notified or requested by signs or other means “to abstain from entering” a right-of-way or “to vacate the right-of-way.”
It also does not pertain to people having “lawful authority” to enter onto a property, including federal, state and local government officials.
In addition, it does not apply to people who have been given permission by the owner to be on the property. It does not apply to employees of the facilities who are working.
The state of Iowa has been embroiled in a legal battle over ag-gag legislation since passing its first ag-gag law in 2012.
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In 2017, a coalition of animal, environmental and community advocacy groups, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, challenged the law’s constitutionality. In January 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines struck down the law, ruling that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violated the First Amendment.
Just a few weeks later, on March 12, 2019, the Iowa Legislature passed a new law making it a trespass crime to conduct undercover investigations at livestock farms. It was signed into law by Gov. Reynolds two days later. Animal rights groups filed a lawsuit on April 22, 2019, to stop the new law. In December 2019, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa granted a preliminary injunction preventing Iowa officials from enforcing the new law.
The 2012 law came about after at least a couple of widely publicized investigations into hog operations. The law made it illegal to enter a livestock facility under false pretenses or lie on a job application to work for a livestock operation. It was meant to effectively criminalize undercover investigations on livestock farms.
In their 2019 lawsuit against Iowa’s second ag-gag law, the animal rights groups compared the new law with the previous law, calling them “substantially similar” and outlining how the new law is overbroad. Further, the groups provided details of planned investigations into agriculture operations that would be thwarted by the new law.
The 2019 law, which is currently held up in court, prohibits what it calls “agricultural production facility trespass.” It makes it illegal for a person to gain access to an ag facility through deception if the intent is to cause an “injury” to the “business interest” of the facility.
The 2012 law used similar language, prohibiting what it called “agricultural production facility fraud.” That was defined as obtaining access to an ag facility through false pretenses and making false statements or representations on applications for employment with ag facilities.
The animal rights groups have identified Iowa ag facilities where they would like to conduct “undercover, employment-based investigations, but it has not pursued such investigations due to its reasonable fear of prosecution” under the 2019 law.
Similar cases have overturned laws in Idaho and Utah in recent years, but a Wyoming law has been upheld in court. Similar cases are still working their way through courts in North Carolina.
Attempts to pass ag-gag laws have failed in 17 states, including Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Similar laws have been found unconstitutional in Kansas, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Laws currently remain in effect in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama.
Read the new Iowa law here.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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