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Common Element for 2013′s “Ag-Gag” Bills: Quick Reporting

The long and short of state bills being introduced this year regarding farm animal abuse is the quick reporting of any incident.

Whether it’s the one page in New Hampshire, five pages in Wyoming, or 11 pages in Nebraska, these bills all share requirements for quick reporting.  In that respect, there’s been some evolution from last year’s class of “ag-gag” bills because the classic prohibitions against the unauthorized audio-video recording of farm animals under the threat of felony conviction with some real hard prison time has shown up only in Wyoming this year.

In two other states, there’s been some new thinking from last year’s “ag-gag” bills that were so-named because they seemed written to shred the First Amendment, and turn every animal activist into a criminal.

Some animal agricultural interests are proposing lighter or at lest different steps this year with legislative sessions well underway in most states. Last year, Iowa, Utah, and Missouri enacted varying versions of “ag gag” laws.

Those three new laws are similar to statutes adopted in North Dakota, Montana and Kansas 20 years earlier. Agricultural law experts say the prosecutions brought under these measures is almost non-existent.

Nevertheless, animal activists vehemently oppose measures they say are intended to “gag” those who collect evidence of animal cruelty on private agricultural property without permission from the owner.

The first evolutionary change in the various bill drafts came last year in Missouri, when the emphasis on put on prompt reporting. That’s carrying over this year in all three bills introduced so far.

Animals that are abused or kept under constant stress are more susceptible to disease and pathogens common to foodborne illness. The Human Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, and other animal activist groups periodically  place undercover video photographers in animal facilities to collect evidence of animal abuse.

One such operation, the Humane Society’s filming of downer cows being fork-lifted into the kill box at a California slaughterhouse led to the largest beef recall history as the practices had severe food safety implications.

That’s why animal activist and consumer groups are continuing their opposition to both the “lite” and “heavy” versions of the evolving ag-gag bills. So far, here’s what’s been introduced:

New Hampshire-

House Bill (HB) 110 is just 7 lines long, requiring any person who records cruelty to livestock to report it within 24 hours.

Wyoming-

HB 0126 makes the first time offense of “knowingly or intentionally” recording the image or sound from an agricultural operation without the consent of the owner or manager a misdemeanor punishable for up to six months in jail and a $750 fine. Same if criminal did the act by trespass as by concealing devices on the premises.

The Wyoming bill requires reporting animal abuse within 48 hours, and anyone who makes a good faith effort is immune from civil liability for making a report.

Nebraska-

Legislature Bill (LB) 240 introduced in the Unicameral take a different tact. Section 3 of the bill says that if a person makes a “false statement” in an employment agreement with the intention doing an animal facility “economic harm” or “doing serious bodily injury” to someone, the criminal violations kick in.

If economic damages are more than $100,000, or there’s serious bodily injury, felony charges can be brought. A more serious felony can be brought if economic damages exceed $1 million or if the violation involves the death of another individuals.

The Nebraska bill specifically says nothing in the language is intended to prohibit otherwise lawful peaceful picketing or to restrict other rights under the First Amendment. It includes a 24-hour reporting requirement.

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