Iowa House passes bill limiting drone surveillance of livestock facilities

Rep. Derek Wulf (R-Hudson),

The Iowa House passed legislation Tuesday, April 11 restricting drone surveillance of livestock facilities without the permission of the property owner.

“Remotely piloted aircraft” could not fly within 400 feet of homesteads or areas where agricultural animals are kept if House File 572 becomes law. People caught violating these restrictions would face a simple misdemeanor for intruding on farm airspace, and could face a serious misdemeanor charge if the device records images, sounds or other data.

The bill is a response to animal welfare organizations documenting conditions and treatment of animals at Iowa livestock and dog-breeding facilities. Iowa legislators have repeatedly passed so-called “ag-gag” laws to attempt to criminally penalize activists who record and publish images and videos of livestock facilities and businesses. Judges have ruled that the laws are unconstitutional.

Rep. Derek Wulf, R-Hudson, said the drone bill “provides privacy rights for our Iowa farmers and ranchers, and their operations, as they care for the safety and security of their livestock.”

The bill drew opposition from business owners who use drones. Several speakers said during a February subcommittee meeting the legislation could limit their ability to work in situations where drones are flown over multiple properties, especially in more densely populated areas. The bill was amended to clarify the restrictions apply only to properties outside of city limits, and would not impact people flying drones over their own properties. Amendments also made exemptions for railroads and accidental intrusions “that do not linger over protected areas.”

The bill passed the House 87-10 and will next be available for consideration in the Senate alongside its companion Senate File 520.

“We have a bill here that in no way slows down the technological advances in the use of drones, as they’re used more and more in different agricultural purposes,” Wulf said. “I believe, however, this bill is a step in the right direction to protect Iowa’s farmers and ranchers as they work every day to protect the safety and security of their livestock, and the operations they take pride in providing the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.”