Iowa Governor Signs New Agricultural Production Facility Trespass Statute into Law

March 14, 2019
Kitt Tovar

On March 14, 2019, the Iowa Governor signed into law a new agricultural production facility trespass statute. Senate File 519, which was passed by the Iowa House and Senate on March 12, makes it a crime to obtain access to or employment with an agricultural production facility by use of deception with the intent to cause “physical or economic harm or other injury.” A person who violates this law is guilty of a serious misdemeanor for the first offense and an aggravated misdemeanor for any subsequent offense. The bill also criminalizes conspiracy to commit agricultural production facility trespass.

The passage of this bill comes shortly after a federal judge ruled that a similar Iowa law was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment. The law at the center of Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds is Iowa Code § 717A.3A. That law criminalized (1) obtaining access to agricultural facilities under false pretenses and (2) making false statements to obtain a job at an animal production facility with the “intent to commit unauthorized acts.” During debate of SF 519, House floor manager Rep. Klein acknowledged the similarities between the two laws but stated that SF 519 is a narrower version created with the same intent to protect producers. Iowa has appealed the January ruling declaring § 717A.3A unconstitutional to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. A ruling will take many months, but the new law is effective immediately.

Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also struck down most of Idaho’s “ag-gag” law for First Amendment violations. However, the Ninth Circuit upheld the provisions of the Idaho law which criminalize misrepresentation in obtaining records and employment “with the intent to cause economic or other injury.” The new Iowa law, SF 519, applies this same standard to penalize the use of deception to obtain access to or employment with an agricultural production facility with the “intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury.” As the Eighth Circuit appeal gets under way, we will watch for the next legal challenge.

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