It took a time-killing debate in the Indiana General Assembly and a game-changing veto by Gov. Bill Haslam in Tennessee. And only when North Carolina’s Legislature adjourned for the year last Friday could animal welfare groups say they had defeated ag-gag everywhere it had a chance of becoming law.
All the so-called ag-gag bills — designed to prevent undercover activists from documenting activities at animal facilities — that were seriously considered by lawmakers in 11 states this year are dead. North Carolina’s adjournment put a period on a 2013 legislative season that failed to produce even one victory for animal agriculture interests.
Ag-gag bills, as defined by animal activist groups, typically ban photography and video on private property, make it crime to apply for a job under “false pretenses” and require quick reporting of documented animal abuse.
Six states have adopted ag-gag laws since 1990. Three of those came in 2012 when Iowa, Utah and Missouri adopted them.
North Dakota, Montana and Kansas were first to adopt such provisions into law back in 1990-91.
Several animal activist groups routinely work with undercover operatives who go about the country obtaining employment at animal agriculture facilities and then secretly recording mistreatment of animals. Groups like the Humane Society of the United States( HSUS), Mercy for Animals, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) say ag-gag bills suppress their whistleblower activities, which often result in criminal convictions for animal cruelty.
This legislative season, the animal groups enlisted a broader coalition of interests against the bill, from country stars in Tennessee to journalistic organizations in Washington D.C. In the end, they’d killed bills in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming,
In a statement, ASPCA said 70 civil liberties, environmental, prosecution, First Amendment, labor and even some farming groups had signed the opposition statement to the state bills. Polling conducted last year showed 71 percent of Americans supported the undercover work by animal welfare groups to expose animal abuse, and 64 percent opposed making such efforts illegal.
In addition to blocking more state ag-gag laws, animal welfare groups have filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Utah’s law. As best as anyone knows, the Utah law is the only ag-gag measure ever used to prosecute someone.
Last spring, Utah resident Amy Meyer was charged under the Utah ag-gag law for using her cell phone to videotape alleged animal abuse occurring at a slaughterhouse The case, however, was dismissed without prejudice after it was established that she was on public property at the time.
“Ag-gag legislation threatens a wide array of public interests—including animal welfare and food safety—by silencing the very people in a position to document abuse,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “We hope the defeat of these 11 bills encourages lawmakers to shift their focus toward achieving accountability for those who are inflicting abuse on animals and putting consumers at risk instead of focusing on misleading efforts to suppress whistleblowers who want to expose those problems.”© Food Safety News