Court Strikes Down Iowa 2021 Ag-Gag Law

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- One of two remaining so-called "ag-gag" laws in effect in Iowa was struck down by a federal court on Monday, as a federal judge ruled the law violated freedom of speech.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Southern Iowa granted summary judgment to environmental groups that argued the 2021 law was unconstitutional.

The 2021 law made it an aggravated misdemeanor to enter private property without the consent of the owner and take samples of soil, water or animal products. It also criminalized placing a camera or other surveillance device on such properties.

Courts have now struck down three of four such laws in Iowa.

"The United States Constitution does not allow such a singling out of the exercise of a constitutional right," Chief Judge Stephanie M. Rose wrote in the order handed down on Monday.

"The decision to single out this conduct is most plainly shown by defendants' description of the act as 'enhancing the penalty for conduct that is already prohibited by law.' That is the issue with the law -- it is enhancing a criminal penalty based on the exercise of speech (or a predicate component of speech). The law does not limit its reach to specific instances of using a camera, such as a peeping Tom situation. Rather, the act only punishes a trespasser exercising a constitutional right."

Now only the 2020 Food Operation Trespass Law in Iowa remains in effect.

That law was ruled to be constitutional by an Iowa district court judge in Wright County on Jan. 18, 2022. The 2020 law forbids what it calls "food operation trespass," which is now a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses.

In August 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled a 2012 law was constitutional for making it a crime to obtain access to an ag facility by false pretenses. The court, however, said it was unconstitutional to make it a crime to obtain employment with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the employer.

Immediately following the Eighth Circuit ruling, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed a civil rights request in the district court for injunctive relief from the 2021 Iowa bill signed into law in April 2021.

Earlier this year, Iowa's 2019 law was struck down by Rose last year.

Both the 2019 and 2012 laws were found to be too broad in their attempts to make it illegal for someone to gain access to an agriculture facility by lying on a job application to gain employment.

The first Iowa ag-trespass law came about in 2012 after at least a couple of widely publicized investigations into hog operations.

The law made it illegal to enter a livestock facility under false pretenses or lie on a job application to work for a livestock operation. It was meant to effectively criminalize undercover investigations on livestock farms.

Attempts to pass ag-gag laws have failed in 19 states, including Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Maine, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware and New Jersey.

Similar laws have been found unconstitutional in Kansas, North Carolina, South Dakota, Idaho and Utah. Laws currently remain in effect in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama. The law in Arkansas, however, faces a legal challenge.

Read more on DTN:

"Iowa Ag-Gag Law Found Unconstitutional,"….

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