Iowa Senate approves limits on lawsuits challenging confinement sites

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has passed a bill supporters hope will reduce what they consider “nuisance” lawsuits about the location of livestock operations.

Senator Dan Zumbach, a Republican from Ryan, said the bill establishes new legal protections for livestock producers who are “prudent” and “reasonable.”

“It only is going to protect good actors,” Zumbach said. “It’s going to do nothing for bad actors and you can still sue. You can still file for damages. It just creates equitable damages.”

The bill, for example, would put new limits on the damages a court could order for health care costs connected to living near a confinement. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said some big livestock operations “don’t give a hoot about their neighbor.”

“I support agriculture in this state,” Dotzler said. “It’s a good thing for us, but you’ve also got to respect other people’s properties.”

Senate Democratic Leader Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids said the bill is “fundamentally unfair.”

“This is about people’s dreams and their lives,” Hogg said. “And what they don’t want is to have somebody come in unfettered and have a nuisance put in next to them and be told when they try to do something about it: ‘You know what? Your rights don’t matter. The fact that you were there first doesn’t matter.’”

Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan, an independent, said things have changed, for the worse, in many rural areas.

“We’ve got to get rid of this notion that you can just put a confinement anywhere, at any time,” Johnson said.

Zumbach said the bill is necessary because banks are reluctant to loan money to livestock producers because of the threat of “nuisance” lawsuits.

“This bill’s about a young gentleman or lady coming out of Iowa State University educated well, ready to go into the livestock industry,” Zumbach said, “and having the ability to go to a bank that will loan that person money and feel comfortable with that loan to start them in the livestock industry.”

And Zumbach said the bill’s designed to protect smaller producers who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. He accused critics of the legislation of trying to “slaughter” the state’s livestock industry.

The bill passed with the support of 31 of the 50 state senators. It must clear the House Ag Committee by the end of March or it will no longer be eligible for consideration by lawmakers this year.

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