Iowa bill aims to prohibit drones near livestock farms (again)

Iowa drones livestock

Buzz it, and they will come – the cops, that is. State lawmakers in Iowa have introduced legislation that calls for creating fines and potential prison sentences for pilots who fly their drones within 400 feet of farms raising livestock.

Two different but remarkably similar looking bills have been tabled by elected officials in Iowa seeking to ban unauthorized drones being flown over or within 400 feet of livestock “farmsteads.” House File 388, which was pushed ahead by Iowa’s House Agriculture subcommittee this week, “prohibits the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flying over a homestead or that part of a farmstead where agricultural animals are kept (secured farmstead area).”

nearly identical text was approved by a Senate subcommittee last week. Both bills require approval by their respective full committees before being put to vote by the Iowa legislature.

At first glance, the proposed House ban might seem like an effort by animal loving politicians to prevent hovering drones from terrifying Iowa farmland livestock “belonging to the bovine, caprine, equine, ovine, or porcine species” as they await their trip to the slaughterhouse. Also singled out for aerial protection are “farm deer as defined in section 170.1; ostriches, rheas, oremus; turkeys, chickens, domestic geese or ducks, or other domestic fowl; or fish or other aquatic organisms confined in private waters for human consumption.” 

After all, who likes the idea of a farm-raised lamb being wigged out by the sound of rotors as its rendezvous with the butcher looms?

Iowa officials may indeed spend sleepless nights worrying about drones frightening livestock on  state farms. But the far more probable motivation behind the texts is lawmakers’ enduring desire to clip the wings of animal rights groups that use UAVs to document what they call the inhumane treatment of critters raised to feed humans – pilots operating craft around farmlands for other, often professional reasons be damned.

ReadAnimal rights activists’ drone video details livestock cruelty on ‘factory farms’

The state’s GOP-dominated legislature has repeatedly passed what are known as “ag-gag” bills banning the unauthorized use of cameras to record conditions at livestock facilities. Last September a court struck down one of those laws as unconstitutional – the third such ruling in half a decade of those confounded anti-drone efforts.

Given the enormous size of Iowa’s agricultural sector – and its presumed backing of candidates sharing its business objectives – it’s not surprising legislators are this time looking to disrupt animal rights groups’ activities by banning drones around the livestock farms they frequently investigate. Odds are similarly high that the bills make it out of committee for a full vote, and, if passed, head to the courts once again.

Whatever their chances of clearing legal challenges this time, the texts certainly don’t pussy-foot around in setting a high dissuasive bar. 

They define violation of the proposed prohibition as a serious misdemeanor for drones piloted with onboard video or audio recording capabilities – i.e., virtually all UAVs sold today – and carries a maximum $2,560 fine and up to a year in jail. A lesser offense by craft without image or sound capacities is punishable by a jolt of up to 30 days and an $855-max fine.

Meaning, if the texts are voted into law and clear anticipated court challenges, it’s very improbable animal rights organizations looking into alleged livestock mistreatment will mistake off-limits Iowa farms with heaven.

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