DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate voted 40-10 today to approve a bill designed to protect Iowa’s agriculture industry from secret “gotcha” videotaping of conditions inside animal production facilities.

Senators approved an amended version of House File 589 that backers say will deter people — oftentimes animal-right activists — who obtain employment or access to an agricultural production facility under false pretenses with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner.

The measure, opposed by 10 Senate Democrats, would create a crime of “agricultural production facility fraud.” It also provides that anyone who conspires with, aids and abets or conceals a person who commits the fraud can also be held criminally liable.

Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, said the bill was designed to provide protections for livestock producers who make large financial investments and who are concerned about exposure to disease and other problems associated with unauthorized people accessing their private property under false pretenses. He said the re-crafted House measure was done in consultation with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to assure that it does not restrict the recording or distribution of videos or photographs. It only deals with fraudulent statements made to obtain access or employment at an animal facility or crop operation property, and with the failure to follow policies requiring the reporting of known fraud.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said the legislation is “problematic” and creates a protection for the agricultural industry that is not afforded to any other sector.

“There are many reasons to be against this bill,” McCoy told his colleagues, questioning why agricultural facilities “don’t want the light shined on their activities.”

McCoy offered an amendment that would have required the owners of all agricultural production facilities to install video recording equipment at their expense to film activities 24 hours a day inside and outside of farm buildings — videos that would be turned over on the first of each month to the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for posting on the Internet. Animal agriculture production facility owners who failed to comply with the proposed recording requirement would have faced a serious misdemeanor for a first offense and an aggravated misdemeanor for any subsequent violation.

The amendment, which failed on an 8-42 vote, also had a mandatory reporting requirement for people who uncovered animal abuse. Seng opposed McCoy’s amendment because he said it would create tougher penalties in Iowa law for abusing animals than what currently cover abuse of children.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who voted against the bill, said he was concerned the proposed change would undermine Iowa’s agricultural industry by stamping “a big red question mark” on every steak, pork chop and egg produced in Iowa over “what have they got to hide?”

Lawmakers last year attempted to make Iowa the first state to criminalize recording farm sights and sounds without prior permission from the farmer or business owner. However, the House-passed measure stalled in the Senate and was revamped instead to create a new offense of agricultural trespassing that languished on the debate calendar in the 2011 session.

The amendment offered by Seng and Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, would establish that a person is guilty of “agricultural production facility fraud” if the person obtains access to the facility by false pretenses, or if the person lies on an employment application or employment agreement with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner. Conviction of a first offense would carry a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine ranging from $315 up to $1,875. Second or subsequent offenses would be punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and a fine between $625 and $6,250. The bill also contained misdemeanor offenses for people who conspire to commit agricultural production facility fraud or who have knowledge of fraud and harbor, aid or conceal someone who violates the fraud law with intent to prevent apprehension.

Backers say they believe the House will accept the Senate changes and send it to Gov. Terry Branstad for his likely signature.

 

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