Update March 3, 2012: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has now signed the Ag-gag bill, H.F. 589 into law. This despite a strong effort by animal welfare and civil liberties organizations and the general public to stop this assualt on the First Amendment. For more on this bill and what it means for the animals, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below. For a look at the kinds of investigations this bill will stop, visit the sites of Mercy for Animals or as other examples, the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. The investigation of the Rose Acre egg producers in Iowa would never have happened had this law been in effect at that time. There are dozens more examples.
Original report: The Iowa Ag-gag bill, H.F. 589, has now been approved by both the state House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill has been sent to Gov. Terry Branstad for his signature.
What the Ag-gag bill does
The bill creates the crime of “agricultural production facility fraud”. A person is guilty of this crime if, for example, he or she obtains a job at a factory farm or other “agricultural production facility” by making a false statement or representation with the intent to “commit an act not authorized by the owner”.
Anyone who obtains access to an agricultural production facility “by false pretenses” is also guilty of the crime.
Those who conspire to commit the crime or aid and abet the commission of the crime would be held responsible as well.
A first conviction would be a serious misdemeanor. A second or subsequent conviction would be an aggravated misdemeanor.
The idea, of course, is to shut down undercover investigations of animal abuse. The bill would criminalize speech that is used to gain access to a factory farm and the like. The bill is so broad that it is likely to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, if not violate them. It also raises the constitutional concern of prior restraint – prohibiting speech in advance. If this bill becomes law, it would be virtually impossible to conduct an undercover investigation of animal abuse, often the only way animal cruelty in factory farms is exposed.
A similar bill is pending in Utah. Similar provisions in a bill in Florida were killed in committee in 2012. Similar bills in New York, Minnesota, Iowa and Florida failed to pass in 2011. But the New York bill as well as the Minnesota bill were re-introduced and are now pending. There is also a bill in Indiana and another in Nebraska that would shut down undercover investigations of farm animal abuse in this way.