DES MOINES, IA (AP) - The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that limits damages in nuisance lawsuits filed against livestock producers, with supporters arguing that the operations are in the public interest.

Sen. Dan Zumbach , R-Ryan, told The Des Moines Register ( ) the legislation is intended to protect animal agriculture, which generates $38 billion annually in economic impact and provides 160,000 jobs in Iowa.

The bill makes it easier for livestock farmers to fight off lawsuits filed by neighbors who object to odors and other nuisances by arguing the neighbors could have done more to lessen the impact, such as by planting trees. The legal concept is known as affirmative defense.

It also limits the monetary damages a neighbor may seek in a lawsuit to only the lost value in their property caused by the livestock farm. It also places strict limits on any monetary damages for adverse health conditions caused by living in close proximity to a livestock farm.

Bill opponents argue that rural parts of the state have become a "chemical waste zone" and there are major concerns about water quality.

The measure, approved on a 31-18 vote in the Senate, now heads to the House.

Zumbach, an eastern Iowa farmer who chairs the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill will help rural communities by allowing more farmers to be involved in animal agriculture. He said the legislation will help spur rural schools' enrollment as young families become involved in agriculture.

Supporters of the bill include the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Smithfield Foods, Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Coalition to Protect the Rural Economy, and several insurance companies.

The bill's opponents include the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Association for Justice, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, and Iowa Rivers Revival.

Democrats unsuccessfully proposed an amendment aimed at protecting existing property owners from confined animal feeding operations.

"Not taking this amendment says you don't give a hoot about your neighbor," said Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo.

Republicans rejected the amendment.

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