116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With a bitterly divided state Legislature, controversial proposals understandably earn the most public attention. But a large share of the bills lawmakers pass each year have overwhelming bipartisan approval. One recent legislative accomplishment is attributable to watchdog journalism.
Both legislative chambers last week approved a bill to expand penalties in cases where farm chemicals drift to nearby property. Senate File 482 allows the state's agriculture regulators to impose fines against private applicators whose pesticides and herbicides end up on neighboring crops.
Current law only provides for fines against commercial applicators, which is an obvious oversight that has only recently gained widespread attention.
State Sen. Kevin Kinney, an Oxford Democrat and a farmer, started looking into the issue after The Gazette asked him about it.
'I couldn't believe there was no ability for (the Department of Agriculture) to be able to have a fine schedule or anything in place,” Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, said.
Erin Jordan, investigative reporter for The Gazette, reported last year on an uptick in damage to soybean crops caused by drifting herbicides, particularly dicamba, an active ingredient in several commonly used weedkillers. Complaints of pesticide misuse in Iowa last year surged to 329, the highest level on record, up from 270 the previous year.
It is encouraging to see Iowa Republicans and Democrats come together to pass common-sense legislation that's friendly both to the environment and the farming industry. Legislative proposals to regulate agriculture and auxiliary sectors usually face long odds in a Legislature where farming interests reign supreme.
Admittedly, the bill does not represent a radically new approach to agriculture oversight, it simply extends the possibility of a $500 fine to more applicators. We would like to see the state go further by codifying steeper penalties for bad actors, but the ag chemical bill is a good start.
What a few months ago was an overlooked issue frustrating farmers is now on its way to becoming a bipartisan law, thanks in large part to The Gazette's reporting. That's a testament to the power of your local newspaper.
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