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Iowa ban on secret farm recordings could end up in court

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 18, 2011 at 11:04:12 AM CDT


The Iowa House on Thursday approved House File 589, which establishes new civil and criminal penalties for various offenses on farms, including unauthorized audio or video recordings. Nine House Democrats joined all of the Republicans present to pass the bill on a 66 to 27 vote. Click here for the full bill text (here's a pdf version). The House Journal includes the roll call on this bill. The Democrats who voted yes were Deborah Berry (district 22), Dan Kelley (district 41), Helen Miller (district 49), Dan Muhlbauer (district 51), Brian Quirk (district 15), Roger Thomas (district 24), Kurt Swaim (district 94), Andrew Wenthe (district 18), and John Wittneben (district 7). Most of them represent largely rural or small-town areas, except for Berry, whose district includes part of Waterloo.

I've posted some of the controversial language in House File 589 after the jump. The bill raises constitutional questions; last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty, citing First Amendment concerns. Yesterday in Des Moines,

Dan Hauff, investigations director for Chicago-based Mercy for Animals, said the law is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment. He said it would inhibit investigative journalists from reporting on animal cruelty, environmental hazards and food safety issues on farms. He said the organization might bring litigation if the bill becomes law, but he hoped it wouldn't make it that far.

Senator Tom Harkin said yesterday he hadn't studied details on House File 589, but he argued against the idea behind the policy.

"Thankfully, because of whistleblowers and others doing undercover work, we are finding out about a lot of the abuses that are taking place in animal agriculture - and some of those abuses have just been awful," Harkin said during a conference call with reporters.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney, a cattle farmer who is the lead sponsor on this bill, defended the legislation, saying, "We are completely concerned about the health and well-being of our animals on our farms, and if we have individuals coming onto our farms and filming and not telling us they're there, we are sincerely worried about the health and biosecurity." Speaking for Democrats who voted against House File 589, State Representative Pat Murphy argued that "the overwhelming majority of farmers and people who own breeding facilities in Iowa operate very reputable businesses and treat their animals well," but "you have to wonder" what the few who have problems at their facilities want to hide.

Des Moines-based advertising specialist Michael Libbie considers this bill a big public relations mistake:

[P]assing such legislation controlling and making the filming and distribution illegal makes ag look....bad.  Very bad. [...]

At a time when agriculture needs more, not less, friends and at a time when so many people have horrible misconceptions about farming and nearly zero relationships with farmers and ranchers...this bill is ill advised.  Bad idea for agriculture, bad idea for farmers and ranchers....this will only fuel the fires of those who already think animal agriculture is evil.  And for those who don't, they  just might start wondering, "So, what is going on they don't want me to know about?"

I expect the Iowa Senate to approve this bill with minimal changes, and Governor Terry Branstad to sign it. Ultimately, courts will probably decide whether House File 589 or similar legislation being considered in Florida goes too far in restricting free speech.

UPDATE: A Bleeding Heartland reader commented by e-mail that Republicans like James O'Keefe's secret sting videos (against NPR or ACORN, for example). Why should big ag receive special protection against that kind of exposure?

desmoinesdem :: Iowa ban on secret farm recordings could end up in court
Excerpt from House File 589 (pdf):

Sec. 9. NEW SECTION. 717A.2A Animal facility interference.
1. A person is guilty of animal facility interference, if the person acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility to willfully do any of the following:
a. (1) Produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility as follows:
(a) The record must be created by the person while at the animal facility.
(b) The record must be a reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium.
(2) Possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility which was produced as provided in subparagraph (1).
(3) Subparagraphs (1) and (2) do not apply to an animal shelter, a boarding kennel, a commercial kennel, a pet shop, or a pound, all as defined in section 162.2.
b. Exercise control over the animal facility including an animal maintained at the animal facility or other property kept at the animal facility, with intent to deprive the animal facility of the animal or property.
H.F. 589
c. Enter onto the animal facility, or remain at the animal facility, if the person has notice that the facility is not open to the public. A person has notice that an animal facility is not open to the public if the person is provided notice before entering onto the facility, or the person refuses to immediately leave the facility after being informed to leave. The notice may be in the form of a written or verbal communication by the owner, a fence or other enclosure designed to exclude intruders or contain animals, or a sign posted which is reasonably likely to come to the attention of an intruder and which indicates that entry is forbidden.
2. A person who commits the offense of animal facility interference is guilty of the following:
a. For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.
b. For a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class "D" felony.
3. A person convicted of animal facility interference is subject to an order of restitution as provided in chapter 910.
Sec. 10. NEW SECTION. 717A.2B Animal facility fraud.
1. A person is guilty of animal facility fraud, if the person willfully does any of the following:
a. Obtains access to an animal facility by false pretenses for the purpose of committing an act not authorized by the owner of the animal facility.
b. Makes a false statement or representation as part of an application to be employed at the animal facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the animal facility.
2. A person who commits the offense of animal facility fraud is guilty of the following:
a. For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.
b. For a second or subsequent conviction, the person is
guilty of a class "D" felony. 3. A person convicted of animal facility fraud is subject to
an order of restitution as provided in chapter 910. 4. This section does not apply to an animal shelter, a
boarding kennel, a commercial kennel, a pet shop, or a pound, all as defined in section 162.2.
Sec. 11. NEW SECTION. 717A.2C Animal facilities -- civil
actions.
1. A person suffering damages resulting from the commission of animal facility tampering as provided in section 717A.2 or animal facility interference as provided in section 717A.2A may bring an action in the district court against the person causing the damages to recover all of the following:
a. An amount equaling three times all actual and consequential damages.
b. Court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
2. In addition to awarding damages as provided in subsection 1, a court may grant any equitable relief that the court determines is appropriate. Nothing in this chapter shall prevent a party from petitioning a court for equitable relief.
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