After an easy 23-10 vote Friday in the state Senate, Idaho is halfway home to passing the nation’s seventh so-called “ag-gag” law. Action to send the “Interference with Agriculture” act to Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk could come as early as this week in the Idaho House of Representatives. The GOP controls the House by 57-13.
“S1337 would make it a crime, punishable by imprisonment, to simply photograph or videotape abusive, unsanitary or otherwise unethical activity on a farm,” Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals wrote Sunday in a guest editorial published in the Twin Falls, ID, Times-News.
“Even employees and journalists who take photos or video to document misconduct on farms could face criminal prosecution if the bill is passed, whether it’s mistreatment of animals, food safety hazards, worker safety violations, sexual harassment, financial embezzlement, or environmental crimes,” Runkle added.
In 2012, Mercy for Animals produced a video documenting animal abuse at an Idaho dairy.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA), along with other mainstream Idaho agricultural groups, is now pushing S1337.
“It will be heard in the House,” IDA Executive Director Bob Naerebout said. “And, yes, we strongly support the legislation.”
Naerebout also told Food Safety News that the reason the first bill introduced, S1298, was replaced with S1337 was to include language to distinguish between property that is “not open to the public” and that which is “publicly owned.”
State Sen. Jim Patrick (R-Twin Falls) is the sponsor of both the original bill and the replacement. Patrick’s district is at the center of Idaho’s rapidly growing $2.5-billion dairy industry.
The Humane Society of the United States has defined “ag-gag” bills as having three common elements: Banning taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission, making it a crime for an investigator to get work (by falsifying a job application) at a factory farm, and requiring mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that no pattern of abuse can be documented.
Like other “ag-gag” laws, the Idaho bill is so broadly written that it has raised First Amendment concerns. State and national media organizations have intervened in a challenge to a similar Utah law brought by animal rights groups. A ruling in that case could come in May.
Last year, the Tennessee Legislature passed similar legislation, only to see it vetoed by GOP Gov. Bill Haslam.© Food Safety News