Iowa Senate passes two bills favored by Big Ag (updated)

The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate passed two bills today favored by corporate agricultural interest groups. House File 589, the notorious “ag gag” bill, seeks to prevent whistleblowers from reporting alleged abuse at agricultural facilities. Senate File 2172 would reduce the number of sows that confined-animal feeding operations need to report for manure management purposes. Details on the bills and how senators voted are after the jump.

UPDATE: Bypassing normal legislative procedures, the Republican-controlled Iowa House also passed the “ag gag” bill on February 28. Scroll down for details on how the state representatives voted.  

The livestock industry has pushed for “ag gag” bills in several states. In March 2011, most Iowa House Republicans and some Democrats voted for House File 589, which would have criminalized the possession and distribution of unauthorized recordings at an agricultural facility. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office warned the Iowa Senate that the bill could be challenged on First Amendment grounds.

In response, Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport and Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, worked on a provision that scrapped the House version in substitute for a provision that did not deal with recordings.

The Senate version doesn’t address audio or video recordings issues. Instead, it would create a new crime: Agricultural production facility fraud.

A person who obtained access to a facility by false pretenses or lies in their job application with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner could be found guilty and face serious or aggravated misdemeanor charges.

Click here for the full text of House File 589. The lobbyist declarations show that just about every farm industry group supports the bill. A range of animal-welfare, environmental, progressive and civil rights groups registered against the bill.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette editorial board commented recently,

The Senate measure would have a sharp, chilling affect on activists, journalists and even facility employees who took a farm job under no false pretense whatsoever. Even the chance of being charged with a crime would likely be enough to keep many of them silent. […]

Basically, we believe throwing a criminal net this broad and potentially damaging to head off a public relations problem is the wrong use of legislative authority. Food safety and animal treatment laws are meant to benefit the health and welfare of all Iowans, and should be fully and rigorously enforced. Lawmakers should not seek to create bubbles of special protection for certain industries, no matter how important or influential.

All 24 Iowa Senate Republicans voted for House File 589 today. Next time GOP lawmakers claim to be against government “picking winners and losers,” they should be asked to explain their vote for this bill.

The following 16 Senate Democrats also voted for House File 589: Daryl Beall, Dennis Black, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Gene Fraise, Mike Gronstal, Tom Hancock, Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie, Amanda Ragan, Tom Rielly, Brian Schoenjahn, Joe Seng, Steve Sodders, and Mary Jo Wilhelm.

These ten Senate Democrats voted against House File 589: Joe Bolkcom, Jeff Danielson, Bill Dotzler, Bob Dvorsky, Jack Hatch, Rob Hogg, Pam Jochum, Liz Mathis, Matt McCoy, and Herman Quirmbach.

The other bill backed by agribusiness that passed today was Senate file 2172 (full text here). This legislation is a successor to Senate File 2022, which Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action described in a February 10 press release:

SF 2022 would allow factory farm operators to exempt replacement sows bred onsite for farrowing operations in their total head count at a factory farm site. Factory farm producers would not have to report these animals, or their manure to the DNR, on permitting documents, or in manure management plans.

Senate President Jack Kibbie introduced the bill at the request of lobbyists for the Iowa Pork Producers, under the guise of biosecurity issues.

“Sen. Kibbie is selling us out.  Instead of working on bills that will benefit everyday Iowans and stop factory farms from polluting our air and water, our elected officials in the Senate are just opening the door for the factory farm industry to keep expanding,” said Jim Yungclas, a CCI Action member and retired county agricultural extension director, “This bill could potentially open the door for all kinds of loopholes from the corporate livestock industry like allowing extra cattle on feedlots, extra layer hens in chicken factory farms. Where would they draw the line?”

A farrowing sow produces manure, just like other hogs. The whole point of a manure management plan is to deal with all the manure produced in a CAFO. I can’t see any justification for this bill, other than letting CAFO operators get away with not cleaning up their mess.

Apparently, 49 senators did find some logic behind this legislation, because Senate File passed by 49 votes to 1 today. Joe Bolkcom was the only no vote.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Radio Iowa posted the audio of the 52-minute Iowa Senate debate of House File 589. Excerpts:

“People are trying to get into these places, saying they’re a plumber or they’re this or that, they’re going to take care of your livestock with no intention of that whatsoever. They’re trying to bring down this business,” [Senator Joe] Seng said. “That is false pretenses. It’s a claim that they’re going to do one thing, but they’re not going to do it. They’re going to do something else.” […]

“This is the way to chill the whistleblowers and to bring the cover of darkness over this and to give immunity to big agriculture so they can do whatever they please, however they please and do it with immunity,” [Senator Matt] McCoy said.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund released this statement on February 28:

Senate Democrats sell out to factory farm lobby

Two bad factory farm de-regulation bills pass the Iowa Senate today

Des Moines, IA – A bipartisan sell out to the corporate factory farm lobby was on full display in the Iowa Senate today as a majority of Senate Democrats joined their GOP counterparts to pass two bad factory farm bills that give away special treatment to big-moneyed corporate ag interest groups like the Iowa Pork Producers and the Iowa Farm Bureau at the expense of everyday people and the environment.

Senator Joe Seng managed HF589 on the Senate floor, the so-called “Ag Gag” bill, which criminalizes factory farm watchdogs and whistleblowers by increasing legal penalties for everyday people who hold factory farms accountable for exposing animal abuse.  The Senate passed this bill 40-10.

Senator Jack Kibbie managed SF2172 on the Senate floor, a bill that carves out a giant loophole in Iowa’s public oversight laws by allowing factory farm breeders to raise gilts on-site without counting them towards the total number of hogs in confinement that could trigger construction permits and other requirements.  The Senate passed this bill 49-1.

“Seng, Kibbie, and the rest of the Iowa Senators who voted for this bill sold out their constituents to the corporate factory farm industry today,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth generation family farmer and the CCI Action Fund Board President from Dexter, Iowa.  “And Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal deserves a fair amount of blame for allowing these bills to be brought to the floor for a vote in the first place.”

“Iowa CCI Action Fund members are particularly disgusted with Jack Kibbie, who spent most of his career standing up for family farmers and is now throwing his legacy away in the name of corporate profits.  He will now go down in Iowa history books as a man who gave away his principles to the corporate factory farm lobby.”

SECOND UPDATE: Iowa House Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney called House File 589 up just hours after the bill cleared the Senate. She moved that the House concur in the Senate amendment, and the motion carried. After that, state representatives voted 69 to 28 to approve the bill. The House Journal for February 28 (pdf) has the roll call. All 57 House Republicans present for the vote supported the bill. (Rich Arnold, Steve Lukan, and Dan Rasmussen were absent.)

These 12 House Democrats joined Republicans in backing House File 589: Deborah Berry, Mary Gaskill, Curt Hanson, Dan Kelley, Kevin McCarthy (the House minority leader), Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Brian Quirk, Roger Thomas, Andrew Wenthe, Nate Willems, and John Wittneben.

Note: Eight of those 12 Democrats also voted for last year’s version of the “ag gag” bill. Gaskill, Hanson, McCarthy, and Willems voted against the original version last March but for the Senate-amended version today.  

Prediction: The Farm Bureau and other corporate groups will endorse every Republican challenger running against those Democrats. In other words, this bad policy probably isn’t even good politics.

The following 28 House Democrats voted no on the ag gag bill: Ako Abdul-Samad, Dennis Cohoon, Ruth Ann Gaines, Chris Hall, Lisa Heddens, Bruce Hunter, Chuck Isenhart, Dave Jacoby, Anesa Kajtazovic, Jerry Kearns, Bob Kressig, Vicki Lensing, Jim Lykam, Mary Mascher, Pat Murphy, Jo Oldson, Rick Olson, Tyler Olson, Janet Petersen, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Mark Smith, Sharon Steckman, Kurt Swaim, Todd Taylor, Phyllis Thede, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Cindy Winckler, and Mary Wolfe.

Note: Swaim is the only Iowa House Democrat who voted for the original version of the bill last year but against today’s revision. He is not seeking re-election this November.

Today’s votes are exhibit A for why I stopped giving to the Senate Democratic Majority Fund and the House Truman Fund.

MARCH UPDATE: Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 589 on March 2. He defended the bill in his March 5 press conference:

Iowa’s governor suggested so-called “whistleblowers” won’t be prosecuted.

“If somebody comes on somebody else’s property through fraud or deception or lying, that is a serious violation of people’s rights and people should be held accountable for that,” Branstad said. “That’s very different from a whistleblower that sees something that’s wrong, that’s there in an appropriate and legal manner.”

Other critics, like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, are lobbying officials in other states and cities around the country to ban the purchase of Iowa-raised food as a response to the state’s new law. And fast-food giant McDonald’s recently announced it would not buy pork from operations where sows are confined to stalls or crates. Governor Branstad signed the bill into law late Friday, and he told reporters this morning that he’s not concerned about a back-lash to Iowa-grown and raised products.

“Agriculture is an important part of our economy and farmers should not be subjected to people doing illegal, inappropriate things and being involved in fraud and deception in order to try to disrupt agricultural operations,” Branstad said, “so I think if people look at this objectively, this is a reasonable public policy for the State of Iowa and I think a number of other states will probably follow.”

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  • Tried a different tack..

    This year, I picked out a few legislators and have been contributing directly to them.  When some important vote was on the horizon, I would drop them a note, expressing my opinion on how I, a contributor, thought they should vote. I figured if the fat cats can influence votes with cash, maybe I, a small fry, could at least get my foot in the door with a small contribution. Sometimes I got a response, sometimes not.  I was glad to get the information in the post above.  Most of my “peeps” voted the wrong way on these two pieces of bad legislation.  I will express my disappointment, then close the checkbook, having learned my lesson.  Good grief, even Hogg voted for that CAFO bill !!!  What is up with that?  Doesn’t anybody have the balls to stand up to big ag?  Disgusting. Not too worried about ag gag.  Clearly unconstitutional.

    • even with the rewrite

      I’m not sure a court would uphold that ag gag bill, you may be right there. The first version was a slam-dunk to be overturned.