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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate on Tuesday night unanimously approved a bill designed to expand broadband connectivity and bring high-speed technology to more areas of Iowa — especially underserved or unserved places.
Senators voted 47-0 to send the House File 848 to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her expected signature.
The legislation calls for Empower Rural Iowa grants to be made to communication companies that install infrastructure to facilitate a minimum download speed of 100 megabits per second and a minimum upload speed of 100 megabits per second in areas where those services are not available.
At least 20 percent of the amount of the grants awarded must be allocated to projects in difficult-to-serve areas where no service is available at those speeds.
The bill allows various grant tiers and slower speeds, so companies like Mediacom that are employing what’s called fixed wireless technology — to extend internet service in sparsely populated rural areas — could qualify for the state incentives.
“This is a needed advance we need on technology,” said Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, the bill’s floor manager.
Reynolds has asked for $450 million over three years to build out Iowa’s broadband infrastructure. About a third of Iowa’s 99 counties still are broadband deserts where high-speed internet is rarely offered and, for many Iowans, unaffordable, she said.
Iowa also has the second-lowest broadband speeds in the country. House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, has said House Republicans are planning to set aside “around $100 million” in next year’s state budget to expand broadband service in Iowa.
Lawmakers plan to provide the funding for the grants in a separate bill.
And finally, senators approved legislation — by a 35-11 margin — that advocates said was necessary to protect Iowa’s livestock production industry by creating a new “unauthorized sampling” criminal offense.
House File 775 — which began as a regulation on police obtaining search warrants from video on private property — was revamped in the House to create an offense that would apply to anyone knowingly entering private property without consent to obtain samples of substances from agricultural animals or any soil, air, or water from farms.
Also, placing a camera or other electronic surveillance device on someone else’s private property would be a crime under the bill.
Penalties range from an aggravated misdemeanor carrying a two-year sentence and fines topping $8,500 to a Class D felony for subsequent offenses that would carry a five-year prison term and a fine of up to $10,245.
Proponents said the measure would protect against biosecurity concerns associated with trespassing and would not come into play unless someone illegally entered someone else’s property.
But critics said the bill’s intent was to create a criminal offense that would have a “chilling effect” on whistleblowers willing to risk entering private property to expose animal-treatment abuse, violations of OSHA regulations or other workplace wrongdoing.
During the subcommittee process, opponents called it an “underhanded” misuse of the legislative process to spring a new “ag law” version that previously was struck down by a federal judge and will be again if the governor signs this bill.
Senators made a minor change in the bill’s language that requires HF 775 to return to the House for final action.
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