A Missouri Senate committee will hear and likely recommend approval of House Bill 1860, the so-called ag-gag bill the lower chamber already approved on a 124-29 vote.
If that happens, HB 1860 will get a final up or down vote on the floor of the Missouri Senate, possibly before the end of the week.
Sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, who chairs the House Agribusiness Committee, HB 1860 started out as an obscure bill dealing with changes involving grain dealers and vocational education.
But then came amendments Guernsey apparently planned all along to add language making new criminal law. As it left the House, the bill would create two new “agricultural crimes” in Missouri. They are:
– Agricultural Production Facility Fraud: Anyone gaining access to an agriculture facility under false pretenses or by using a falsified employment application, and anyone who helps them, can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
– Agricultural Production Facility Interference: Anyone who records the image or sound of an agricultural operation without the permission of the owner or who distributes the pictures and sound can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. The same charge can be brought against anyone who remains on agricultural premises after being told the area is not open to the public.
The one-two punch of these laws is intended to prevent animal rights groups from gaining access to agricultural facilities to document animal abuse.
A Class A misdemeanor in Missouri carries penalties of up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000. A Class B misdemeanor can fetch up to six months in jail and fine amounts up to $500. Missouri’s proposed law makes a repeat offense a Class D felony, a crime that can mean four years in jail and fines up to $5,000.
When an undercover animal rights investigation comes away with evidence it is not unusual for local prosecutors to file animal cruelty charges, and sometimes much more. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducted an undercover investigation that shut down a Chino, CA slaughterhouse, which had a big contract for supplying the National School Lunch Program with ground beef.
In some cases, food safety has been improved by undercover animal cruelty investigations. The Chino facility was forcing non-ambulatory, or “downer,” cows to slaughter using fork lifts. Animals in such stress are more likely to carry disease.
The Missouri Senate’s Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee has HB 1860 scheduled as one of four bills it will take up Wednesday morning. Republicans control the agricultural committee, 5-2.
The majority members all have strong ties to Missouri’s powerful farm lobby. A few examples:
– Chairman Brian Munzlinger, a farmer and farm educator, is a member of Missouri’s Farm Bureau, Corn Growers Association, Soybean Association and Cattlemen’s Association.
– Sen. Michael L. Parson, cattleman from the Bolivar area, is a member of Missouri’s Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association.
– Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla veterinarian, is a member of the Missouri Farmers Association.
– Sen. Chuck Purgason, from West Plains, is founder and owner of the Ozark Wings hatchery and game preserve. He is a four-time winner of the Farm Bureau’s Friend of Agriculture award.
– Sen. Bill Stouffer, the Saline County farmer, is a member of both the Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Soybean Association.
Iowa and Utah passed ag-gag laws earlier this year largely because the main farm groups in those states lobbied hard for them and when they moved it made things happen quickly. Such an effort might now be underway in Missouri.
Still, the clock is running down on the 2012 Missouri General Assembly and political disputes over the state’s $24 billion budget and the future of its judiciary are sure to eat up time. Adjournment is just two weeks ago.
That’s why observers think that if ag-gag is going to the floor for a vote it’s more likely to happen in the next week than closer to the May 18 adjournment.
HSUS image of confined chickens
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