DES MOINES — Agricultural interests say the Iowa Senate gave them a legal hook Tuesday to help combat animal rights activists intent on damaging elements of Iowa’s food production industry.

However, opponents of the revised version of House File 589, which passed the Senate 40-10, said they succeeded in forcing proponents to settle for a “watered-down” version of the original legislation backed by big-money corporations to make Iowa the first state to criminalize recording farm sights and sounds without prior permission from the farmer or business owner.

“I would say their victory is hollow,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who tried unsuccessfully to defeat legislation that would create a crime for anyone who obtains employment or access to an agricultural production facility under false pretenses with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner — such as secretly filming livestock-related activities in hopes of disparaging the industry’s image. “It’s not an unforeseen outcome given the money lined up behind this,” he added.

Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, the House Agriculture Committee chairwoman who led the charge last year to get a tougher measure approved by the GOP-run House, said she was “very thrilled” by Tuesday’s Senate vote.

Representatives wasted no time in approving the Senate changes on an 68-26 House vote several hours later and sent the bill to Gov. Terry Branstad for his expected signature.

“This is a very, very positive step for agriculture,” she said. “For right now, I think it’s a start to realize that we are serious about protecting the agriculture that we have in our state.”

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Sweeney said 10 other states are looking at similar laws to deal with an issue that pits environmental and animal rights activists against farmers and agri-business interests.

“This is extremely important to the producers,” said Sweeney, who noted that the bill in no way is meant to shield people who abuse animals in any way. Whether it discourages secret “gotcha” videotaping of conditions inside animal production facilities remains to be seen, she added, saying “I’m hoping that it sends a signal that if you do commit fraud, it’s illegal and they need to be mindful of that.”

The compromise version of HF 589 offered by Sens. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, 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 their 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.

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