A bill that criminalizes certain types of trespassing on agricultural properties has passed the Iowa legislature and now awaits Governor Kim Reynolds’ signature.
Drew Mogler, the public policy director at the Iowa Pork Producers Association, says it creates new penalties for those found guilty of trespassing to set up surveillance equipment on someone else’s property to secretly capture images or video.
“It does have some important protections for not just our members but really anyone who has private property and that was really the basis of this bill,” Mogler says, “protecting private property rights for folks in the state of Iowa, to have some strong support from some of the business groups in the state as well.”
Iowa legislators have been trying for years to enhance trespassing laws in response to undercover operations that target large-scale livestock operations. Mogler says the way the bill was written should help it withstand any possible lawsuits.
“We’ve had trespass laws on the books for quite some time in Iowa, it strengthens those,” Mogler says. “We really believe that should pass the court’s muster and shouldn’t be challenged from that standpoint.”
Court challenges have prevented previous attempts to enhance penalties for trespassing on ag properties from going into effect. Mogler says trespassers need to be held accountable and this bill will ensure it happens.
“Producers deserve to be protected from folks who are trespassing on private property or breaking into their properties and trying to do harm,” Mogler says. “This bill will offer more protections for farmers for their private properties and also for other businesses across the state as well.”
The measure passed the House on a 72-to-20 vote while the Senate approved it 35-to-11. Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign it into law.
Adam Mason, state policy director for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, says as soon Reynolds signs it into law, there will be lawsuits.
“Because this one specifically addresses photo and video evidence, we assume it to be unconstitutional and that was one of our arguments in fighting them,” Mason says. “We do anticipate a court challenge. The question is, who that will be coming from.”
While ICCI is considering its next step, Mason says he’s heard animal rights activist Matthew Johnson, who was arrested on trespassing charges at an Iowa pork operation, will likely be taking the issue to court. Mason says his group has multiple issues about the bill.
“Folks who have concerns, either about environmental violations at factory farms,” Mason says. “Or because this law is pretty broad, it could prevent workers inside packing plants or other food processing facilities from documenting workplace violations.”
Mason says this type of measure could have far-reaching impacts and it will take time for the various courts to unravel all of these surrounding issues.
“If folks see something wrong, they should be able to say something but this bill tries to turn that into a crime,” Mason says. “That’s a huge concern for us and it’s going to prevent folks from speaking out when they see either environmental violations or workplace violations.”
Under the bill, knowingly entering private property without the owner’s consent and taking soil and water samples or samples of an animal’s bodily fluids would become an aggravated misdemeanor on the first offense. It carries a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison. A second offense would be a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
(By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)