Iowa lawmakers have introduced a bill to curb false complaints against large livestock operations. Opponents contend it hinders their rights to protect themselves from alleged pollution caused by animal feeding operations.

 The proposed bill, filed by the House Agriculture Committee, would allow people to be labeled "chronic complainants" and face penalties if it is found that the livestock operation didn't break the law.

 The plan says that a person will be dubbed a "chronic complainant" if the individual files three or more complaints in a two-year period that officials determine don't eventually turn up a violation.

 If the person has another complaint in that two-year period, one which the county board of supervisors or DNR determines is unfounded, that person faces paying the government's cost of the investigation, and damages and costs to the owner of the animal feeding operation.

 Lobbying in favor of the bill are agricultural interests, including the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Poultry Association and individual pork producers, such as Iowa Select Farms. The Iowa Department of Agriculture also was listed as being in favor of the bill

Supporters say investigating the false complaints can be costly to local and state governments, and to producers who have to take time and money to show they're not violating any laws.

 Opposing the measure are environmental groups, including the Iowa Environmental Council, Izaak Walton League and the Sierra Club. Also listed in opposition is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

 Wayne Gieselman, head of the DNR's environmental services division, says the measure could discourage people from reporting real problems. He adds that there are times when there is no violation of law, but a complaint usually turns up problems that still need attention.

 Rep. Sandy Greiner, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and chairperson of the Environmental Protection Committee, says she would support the bill. She hopes it would keep livestock operations from having to defend themselves against bogus complaints.

 "It doesn't do anything to anybody who has a legitimate concern," says Greiner, whose family once operated a pork operation. "It's just the frivolous harassment type of cases that it would impact."

 Associated Press