With the expected signature of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Idaho would become the fourth state in two years to adopt a so-called “ag-gag” bill as state law. Iowa, Utah, and Missouri adopted similar bills in 2012.
Idaho Senate Bill 1337 easily passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday on a 56-14 vote. It would have passed a day earlier, but the House adjourned early to tour the state prison and attend a party hosted by Canada.
S. 1337 also contains an emergency clause, meaning that it will take effect immediately upon being signed into law by Otter. He has five days to act once the bill is physically delivered to his desk, a task that falls upon the Senate as the originator of the bill.
Animal rights activists have an online petition going with more than 100,000 signatures on it, but Boise statehouse observers say the effort will likely be a fruitless attempt to dissuade Otter from signing S. 1337. The Republican governor is one of the most durable politicians in this heavily red state, and, since the 1970s, has been elected by voters to the offices of lieutenant governor, congressman, and now governor.
State Rep. Donna Pence (D-Gooding), joined 55 Republicans in passing the bill. Thirteen Democrats joined two House GOP members, State Rep. Lynn Luker (R-Boise) and State Rep. Steven Harris (R-Meridian), in voting against S. 1337.
The “agricultural production interference” act contains at least two provisions fitting the definition of an “ag-gag” law. First, anyone who misrepresents himself or herself in obtaining employment in agricultural production could face charges. Second, anyone who records a video or takes picture in a facility not open to the public could also be charged with a misdemeanor. S. 1337 does not appear to change the timeline for reporting instances of animal abuse, which can be a third “ag-gag” legal element.
The Idaho bill was introduced at the behest of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, which quickly rallied support for it from the state’s entire agriculture community.
Idaho’s $2.4-billion dairy industry was stung by a 2012 undercover investigation by a contractor employed by the Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals, a nongovernmental organization. Five hourly employees of the dairy involved were convicted of misdemeanor animal abuse. The dairy fired the five employees, and two of the five fled Idaho’s jurisdiction.
Mercy for Animals recently released more videotape from the 2012 incident after the Idaho Senate passed S. 1337. The video released at the time showed employees being cruel to the animals they were supposed to be tending. The more recent video shows sexual molestation of a cow in their care.
State Rep. Linden Bateman (R-Idaho Falls) referred to those making the videos as “extreme activists who want to contrive issues simply to bring in the donations.”
But State Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) charged that bill proponents just wanted to “imprison the people who criticize you.”
Three other states — North Dakota, Montana, and Kansas — adopted farm protection laws in 1990-1991 legislative sessions that legal experts say contained the first “ag-gag”-like provisions. The “ag-gag’ label is shorthand for a bill that silences whistleblowers, whether they actually go undercover or are a regular employee who just wants to collect evidence of wrongdoing.
In 2013, Tennessee GOP Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the most recent “ag-gag” bill passed by a legislature. Last year, 10 other states saw “ag-gag” bill action, but none of those were sent to the executive branch.
Idaho’s S. 1337 will likely be remembered for its speed: four days from introduction to passage in the Senate, and nine days from delivery to passage in the House.© Food Safety News