DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa has become the first state to pass legislation that criminalizes the act of surreptitiously getting into a farming operation to videotape animal abuse, setting a precedent for others considering similar measures.
The legislation passed the Iowa Senate and House on Tuesday evening and now goes to Gov. Terry Branstad, who has three days to decide whether to sign it.
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said Wednesday that the governor would study the bill before making a decision, but he noted that Branstad was impressed by the support the measure had in both chambers. The bill passed the Senate 40-10 and then was approved by the House, 69-28.
The measure was changed from an earlier version that included language to make undercover videotaping at farms or other animal operations illegal.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such language is protected by the Constitution, and the Iowa attorney general’s office recommended that it be removed from the bill, said the bill’s sponsor and veterinarian Joe Seng, D-Davenport.
Seng said the bill approved Tuesday strikes a balance by discouraging animal activists from sneaking into livestock facilities but doesn’t prohibit someone who legitimately works there to report animal abuse.
The penalty for lying on a job application to get access to a farm facility increases to a serious misdemeanor in the bill, and a second conviction makes it an aggravated misdemeanor.
“I feel that we did something that was needed. It more than anything sends a message,” Seng said. “But I didn’t think it was real egregious to the animal welfare people.”
He said the livestock industry has legitimate concerns about unauthorized people infiltrating their facilities because they could track in disease or let mice or other unwanted vermin in.
“If you have millions invested in a private business, you should be given those safeguards that your business is not injured by somebody,” Seng said.
Opponents of the bill said they are pleased it’s been watered down, but they still think it is overreaching.
“We feel successful that much of the language in the bill was gutted,” said Adam Mason, a spokesman for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an environmental activist group. “Any language on videotaping or photography at factory farms and the possibility of civil lawsuits against people taking videos was removed.”
The group still considers the bill a “power grab” by corporate-backed factory farms to “carve out a protection for itself that no other industry has,” he said.
While many states have considered similar laws, Iowa is the first to pass it, said Scott Hendrick, a senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and Minnesota considered bills last year, but they died in their Legislatures. Bills are also pending this year in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Utah.