The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety were back in federal court in Iowa earlier this week. Just as they did almost two years ago, they’ve sued Iowa Gov. Kimberly K. Reynolds, state Attorney General Tom Miller, and Montgomery County Attorney Drew Swanson.
In 2017, the advocates challenged Iowa’s original “ag-gag” law that was adopted in 2012. They claimed the provision, Iowa Code § 717A.3A, protects factory farms and slaughterhouses from undercover investigations by criminalizing the activity. The U.S. District Court for Southern Iowa granted summary judgment to the groups, finding Iowa’s law unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It stopped the state from enforcing it.
About three weeks later, however, the Iowa Legislature approved Senate File 519, a new ag-gag law that was quickly signed into law by Gov. Reynolds.
“As with the old ag-gag law, the new ag-gag law criminalizes undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, the only difference being the (new) law targets a slightly different form of speech that is integral to those investigations,” says the new complaint filed April 22 by the same plaintiffs that filed the previous action. “Undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses regularly reveal criminal cruelty to animals, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions.”
They claim that routine undercover investigations undertaken by “journalists and animal protection advocates” would be “criminalized by the new ag-gag law.”
Iowa continues to defend its original ag-gag law in the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. It immediately sought that appeal when it lost at the trial court level.
Those bringing the lawsuit against Iowa regarding the second ag-gag law are essentially the same group of attorneys. They include Rita Bettis Austen of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa; Matthew Liebman, Cristina Stella and Kelsey Eberly of Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF); and professors Justin Marceau and Alan Chen of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, who are of counsel to ALDF. Also involved are Matthew Strugar of the Law Office of Matthew Strugar; George Kimbrell of the CFS; and David S. Muraskin of Public Justice.
ACLU’s Austen told Iowa media that the legal actions will remain separate actions as they move through the courts.
The attorneys were previously successful in persuading federal district court judges to strike down similar laws in Idaho and Utah. Idaho’s appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals was only partially successful.
Iowa’s animal agriculture industry, however, insists it needs protection against those who would use false pretense to harm farm operations, including those with government-mandated biosecurity and food defense measures.
Gov. Reynolds told Iowa media that her office and that of state attorney general want to ensure the new ag-gag law that “supports farmers is upheld.” Iowa officials say their new law is more narrowly focused on false speech with the intention of causing harm, which was part of the Idaho statute that was upheld by the appellate court.
Officially, Iowa’s new statute is the Agricultural Production Facility Trespass Law. It makes it illegal for someone to gain access to these private facilities with the intent to cause physical economic harm to its operations, property or persons. A first offense is a serious misdemeanor, and any additional offense is a aggravated misdemeanor. Punishment can involved both fines and prison time.
Iowa prosecutors may also charge conspiracy under the act. The lies and omissions one might use to gain access are broadly defined.
“Agriculture is a critical part of Iowa’s economy,” said Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. He says the new law provides important protections for producers to raise livestock “without the fear of special interest groups with malicious intentions harming their animals or businesses.”
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