Legislators first heard about House File 598 last year when it passed in the House, but it was stopped short in the Senate. It would’ve made it illegal for undercover videotaping at farms or other animal operations in Iowa. Critics said the bill violated the constitution and went too far. Now, a year later, proponents of the bill have made some changes, and the amended version is on its way to the Governor’s office.
The bill passed, 40 to 10, in the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.
Supporters say the amended bill focuses on employment. It states a person cannot enter a farm operation under false pretense or lie on an employment form.
Senator David Johnson (R) voted for the bill. He added, “And you are especially not there to illegally video tape or otherwise photograph supposed animal abuse.”
Legislators who voted against the bill argue that it can still be argued as a free speech issue, and could end up in court.
Senator Jack Hatch (D), who voted against the bill, said he foresees other future issues as well. “Then you say, well what happens if it’s not in the Ag industry and you want to do it in the nursing home industry or the hospital industry or the school industry, and that`s when their argument falls apart,” explained Hatch.
But it didn’t fall through Tuesday in the Senate, or the House. The bill passed there as well, 69 to 28.
Animal rights groups are outraged by the support. The group “Mercy for Animals” released a statement that read:
“Iowa has some of the weakest animal cruelty laws in the nation. Lawmakers should be focusing on strengthening these pathetic laws, not silencing whistle blowers who expose animal abuse or other serious issues involving the safety and security of the American food supply.”
Senator Johnson says the bill protects farmers.
“Those people that argue that this is about catching farmers abusing their animals don’t know what the real record is of all these incidents,” said Johnson, “The record indicates it isn`t the farmer, it`s the people who under false pretenses obtain access to an operation or are employed to do just that and then take that, give it to the news media, give it to an animal rights activists group, that`s what this is all about and there should be a criminal penalty for that.” Johnston said.
A spokesperson with the Agribusiness Association of Iowa Foundation said they support the bill. Officials said it promotes truthfulness in the industry and said Iowans appreciate that.