SF 519 provides protections for ag facilities



District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

After the last two weeks of non-stop committee activity the focus shifts this week to floor action. With the first funnel past, the bills that are still active now need two more actions to remain alive. A bill now must pass through the floor of the originating chamber, and then pass through a policy committee in the opposite chamber in order to stay viable through the second funnel.

One of the bills that was approved was of significant importance to our House District 11. Senate File 519 (SF 519) deals with trespass on agricultural production facilities. In 2012, the General Assembly passed similar legislation, portions of which are now under review by the Iowa Supreme Court for First Amendment issues. It is important that we have SF 519 in place should the Supreme Court strike down current law. SF 519 was drafted to keep the major portions of ag trespass law in place, while working around the First Amendment issues. SF 519 makes it a criminal offense to use deception to gain access to an agricultural production facility in order to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the facility’s operations, property or persons. It also includes using deception to obtain employment in order to cause any harm to a facility.

The necessity for SF 519 came as a result of various activists and organizations obtaining employment in ag facilities for the express purpose of gathering incriminating information, some of which was fabricated by the activists themselves. The danger of these types of people gaining access to today’s sophisticated livestock production facilities is multi-faceted. The first concern would be that if the primary motive is to find fault in an operation, then there is no motivation to perform the work that they were hired to do. The second concern would include a person gaining employment by deceit. This person would collaborate with others to create a situation that would put the operation in a bad light, and then record and distribute the recording.

Much more concerning would be the person that would gain access to a facility by deceit and then use that access for the purpose of vandalism or agro-terrorism.  Something as simple as disabling the ventilation system would cause huge losses in a very short period of time. Even more frightening would be the introduction of some type of pathogen into the facility.  Many of us remember the disruption and losses in pork production during the pseudorabies infection.  More recently the avian flu epidemic wiped out the poultry industry in Iowa and Minnesota for nearly two years. Both of these incidents occurred naturally.  However, someone with the motivation and access to a pathogen could cause massive disruption in our food supply, and huge economic losses that would shake our state’s economy for years.

The markets for specialty crops are another area where protection from SF 519 will be useful. Some of the crops under development that are either genetically modified or developed through selective breeding, will require strict purity protocols. Any contamination from a foreign plant or pest introduced by a trespasser, could drastically reduce or destroy the value of the crop.

It’s only our producers’ unparalleled dedication to the husbandry of their operations and their intense attention to bio-security, that insure that we have a safe and abundant food supply. SF 519 is just one more tool that we can give them to protect their operations from misguided animal rights fanatics and opponents to specialty crops.

Because SF 519 had already passed the Senate, the Governor scheduled a signing ceremony on March 14.

After we passed SF 519, we went directly into the bill that will extend SAVE, the one cent sales tax for school infrastructure. The House passed an extension last year but the Senate did not take it up. This year’s bill is very similar to the bill passed last year. The Representatives that focus on education issues tell me that negotiations with the Senate have gone well, and they anticipate that it will clear the Senate also.

The last item of business yesterday was debate on the “right to keep and bear arms” amendment to the Iowa Constitution.  Iowa is one of only a handful of states that does not have this language in their constitution. The debate centered on the use of the phrase “strict scrutiny” in the amendment language. “Strict scrutiny” is the most strenuous of three standards of judicial review. “Strict scrutiny” requires the court to determine that the public good completely outweighs the rights of the individual. After a very spirited debate the proposed amendment passed on a party line vote.  The amendment is required to pass the 89th General Assembly which begins in 2020 in the exact form that was approved last week, to be eligible to be put on the general election ballot in 2022.