Iowa Judge Will Decide Farmers' Electrical Inspection Challenge

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

DES MOINES — A district judge is being asked to void state rules requiring electrical inspections at farm facilities, a regulatory dispute that has put Gov. Terry Branstad at odds with the state's Electrical Examining Board and some state lawmakers.

Attorneys for a trio of Carroll County farmers are challenging the board's authority in requiring requests for inspections and permits for electrical installations on farm property, contending state examiners' actions were an abuse of their discretion based on "an erroneous, irrational, illogical or wholly unjustifiable" interpretation of the Iowa code governing electrical inspections.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office is countering that the state board committed no errors of law when it determined electrical installations at farm buildings constituted regulated commercial applications that were not exempt under Iowa law. State attorneys argue the farmers' contention that the Legislature intended to "completely exempt" all electrical installations on farm property from regulation was not supported by "the plain language of the statute and is not consistent with its express goal of enhancing public safety and health."

District Judge William Ostlund is presiding over the case brought by Glen Eickman, Michael Sibbel and Russ Schelle. In seeking to void the board rules, attorneys for the farmers are asking the judge to order that they and other owners of farm property "are immune from and are not required" to follow regulations issued by the board and the Iowa Department of Public Safety regarding permits or inspections of electrical installation or repair work performed on farm properties.

In their court filings, attorneys for the farmers noted that Branstad in January issued a formal objection with the public safety agency commissioner stating the board had exceeded its statutory authority in adopting the rules at issue in the court challenge — action that shifted the burden of proof to the state to establish that the rules are "not unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise beyond the authority delegated" to state regulators.

In filing his formal objection, Branstad said he believed that requiring farmers to have safety inspections done after performing electrical work was unduly burdensome. He called the 2008 rule a "power grab" by the Electrical Examining Board that "hurts hardworking Iowa farmers" with costly and unnecessary regulations.

Last summer, state public safety officials announced a decision to indefinitely suspend effective July 1 the mandatory electrical inspections on a "farm facility" — defined as a building or structure located on a farm "other than a residential, industrial, or public-use building or facility" — unless the inspection is voluntarily requested by the property owner or designee.

That drew a challenge from Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, who questioned whether Branstad administration officials could ignore a state law that requires inspections of electrical work done on farm buildings in Iowa. "This is a safety issue and it is a state law," said Kibbie, who asked Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office to provide the Legislature with a legal opinion regarding the policy change.

In response to Kibbie's request, Iowa Deputy Attorney General Julie Pottorff said it would not be appropriate for her office to issue an opinion given that the public safety department's action is directly related to the litigation in Carroll County District Court.
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