First Amendment Rights? Forget it if you are an undercover investigator in Iowa
The Iowa legislation and Gov. Terry Branstad put the fate of future puppy mill undercover investigations in jeopardy after making the infamous Ag-gag bill, H.F. 589, officially into law. Gov. Brandstad signed the bill Saturday evening, disregarding the vocal opposition of animal lovers in Iowa and across the country.
CAPS will continue to champion against similar bills being considered in various states and will make sure the people of Iowa understand the repercussions of this law. The bill makes it illegal to obtain access to or obtain employment with an agricultural facility using false pretenses. Although companion animals don’t appear to fall under the definition of Ag animals in Iowa, this law still applies to crop facilities. Taking into consideration the ease with which puppy mill owners trick the system and use it to their advantage, it is logical to assume that they will find a way to use this law to protect their shady businesses.
For example, puppy mills are sometimes located on farms that grow crops, especially in Iowa. Even with a weak legal team, the puppy mill owners could argue that CAPS investigators violate this new law just by entering the property to videotape blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This would make it nearly impossible to keep these puppy mill operators in check without risking penalties and the investigator being found guilty of a serious misdemeanor. Virtually all the puppy mills caught abusing dogs were put under the spotlight thanks to undercover investigations. Announced inspections allow the unscrupulous breeder to, in most cases, discard of the evidence and put up a mildly believable front. At times, they don’t even bother hiding the evidence of abuse because they can’t be easily prosecuted unless there is evidence (either undercover video footage or a reliable witness) of a misdeed.
The bill is so broad that it will likely be contested because it borders on unconstitutional. By creating the crime of ‘agricultural production facility fraud,’ the government of Iowa sided with the big agricultural corporations and the puppy mill cabal, effectively shielding them from public scrutiny. They have also made it very difficult to enforce animal rights legislation and the most likely scenario is that these people will continue their abuse, now implicitly sanctioned by the state of Iowa. When a law affects the enforcement of another, it’s clear to see that policy makers were duped by or caved to special interest groups that benefited from the arrangement.
Even though some USDA inspectors, due to pressure from the Office of Inspector General Report,* seem to be documenting more Animal Welfare Act violations and in some cases, taking photographs, little, if any, enforcement actions against Iowa puppy mills have taken place. Moreover, inspectors rarely report animal neglect and cruelty to local authorities. A photo taken by a USDA inspector in October 2011 at a puppy mill in Clayton County, Iowa, shows a Chihuahua with a mammary tumor nearly half the size of the dog. Why didn't the inspector present this evidence to the sheriff?
House Amendment 589 and Senate Amendment 5004 read in part:
“Makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.”
An act “not authorized” would most likely include photography and videography, activities that would have been illegal under the first version of Iowa’s Ag-gag bill and to which the Attorney General of Iowa objected. The Iowa legislature cleverly found a way to make these necessary investigative tactics illegal. This statute language is too broad to withstand legal scrutiny. Since when do we give citizens the right to decide what is authorized and what is not under the law? This is, in effect, privatization of public laws.
A very similar bill passed the state House of Representatives in Utah, which indicates that Iowa is just the tip of the iceberg. States like New York, Minnesota, and Florida all had similar legislation that failed to pass, despite the support of big name corporations. Minnesota and New York, both puppy mill states, have re-introduced Ag-gag legislation.
Had Minnesota had an Ag-gag law in place, the CAPS undercover employment investigation of Kathy Bauck, the largest dog broker and breeder and Minnesota, wouldn't have been legal. Bauck wouldn't have been convicted of cruelty, and USDA wouldn't have terminated and ultimately revoked her federal license. CAPS investigative evidence for Reuben Wee, a USDA-licensed breeder in Minnesota who dropped his license, resulted in his conviction for animal cruelty. Missouri, Indiana and Nebraska are considering bills that would impede undercover investigations of farm animal abuse. All three states have large-scale breeding facilities that supply pet shops around the US and Canada.
* In late May 2010, the Office of Inspector General for USDA released a scathing 69-page report for an audit and investigation conducted between 2006 and 2008. This audit and investigation was prompted by a meeting that CAPS and Crowell & Moring attorneys had with OIG officials in May 2006. CAPS reports, video footage and photographs from our investigations of Iowa puppy mills were part of this meeting. The complete OIG report is available on our website. CAPS will continue to cooperate with USDA while conducting ongoing oversight of the Animal Care inspection program. Since 1995, CAPS has been to approximately 1,000 puppy mills, most of them USDA licensed.