Mason City’s two Democratic legislators split as bill to target ‘false speech’ aimed at Iowa farmers headed to governor
DES MOINES — The Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill that establishes a new penalty for people who inflict financial harm on a farm with undercover videos or attacks on livestock or crops.
“Iowa’s heritage and Iowa’s future is agriculture…If we can protect that vital industry in the state of Iowa…we should be voting for this bill,” said Senator Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa.
Rozenboom said the bill targets people who use deception to get onto a farm.
“Those of us in animal agriculture lose sleep over the thought of certain foreign animal diseases that could devastate our farms and bring Iowa to its knees or, maybe, put Iowa flat on its back,” Rozenboom said. “The need for managing strict biosecurity practices is a critical component of this bill.”
The legislation is designed to go into effect immediately. A spokesman for Governor Reynolds said she intends to sign the bill, but will review it in its final form first. Republican Representative Jarad Klein of Keota speed is critically important, as there are fears African Swine Fever could be intentionally spread in Iowa.
“This is a very serious disease, a very high mortality rate,” Klein said. “…If we don’t make sure our biosecurity is really tight, then we could have a real, long-term economic impact in a very negative way to the entire state.”
Critics say there are already laws against trespassing and warn a lawsuit will be filed to block the new law just as a similar state law passed seven years ago has been tied up in court. Representative Liz Bennett, a Democrat from Waterloo, said the bill seeks to silence whistleblowers and consumer advocates.
“This bill gives the middle finger to free speech, consumer protection, food safety and animal welfare,” Bennett said. “…Criminalizing whistleblowing shows an absolute contempt for concerned consumers and a fundamental insecurity over the product and methods used.”
Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, said the state has already spent a lot of money trying to defend a 2012 law on the same subject.
“So we’re doing another bill pretty similar to the last one which is going to end up…costing taxpayers more money,” Steckman said.
Representative Klein told his colleagues the bill targets “false speech” that intends to cause farmers financial harm.
“People who lie to get a job, whose intent is to cause harm not just on social media, but in the biosecurity and the life and health of livestock,” Klein said.
Backers of this new bill say it matches part of an Idaho law that was recently upheld in federal court. The bill passed the House on a 65-32 vote Tuesday afternoon, with Steckman voting against. It passed the Senate Tuesday morning by an even wider margin of 41-8, with Mason City Democrat Amanda Ragan voting in approval.