For a moment last April, the Indiana General Assembly looked like it was going to conclude like an Indianapolis 500 race – with the state Senate putting the hammer down on a “farm protection” bill the House still had some doubts about. But the Senate made a rookie mistake as House members wondered aloud if the so-called “ag-gag” bill would also make it illegal to text damaging information about a restaurant or nursing home, and it all blew up right before the legislative finish line.
While the Indy 500 won’t be run until May 25, the race is again on in the Hoosier Assembly, where the Senate has already passed a new farm protection bill on a 41-5 vote, and, just yesterday, the House Judiciary committee sent Senate Bill 101 to the floor for final approval.
On final passage last year, SB 373 was approved 29-21. If, as it appears, SB 101 is proving more popular, it may be that the 2014 bill is being built on a more familiar foundation. The bill to keep unwanted people away from farm operations resembles a rather durable statute that has long kept unwanted people off railroad property.
State statutes against railroad trespass have long been recognized as tough laws. In Indiana, unless you are a passenger on a train, railroad employee, on-duty law enforcement officer or firefighter, or a federal or state transportation official, railroad trespass can be costly.
But it’s not as costly as being successfully prosecuted for trespass involving agricultural operations will be if SB 101 is ultimately signed into law. If damage to the property is more than $750 but less than $50,000, the offense can be charged as a Level 6 felony. For damages that reach $50,000 or more, it’s a Level 5 felony.
New criminal classifications take effect in Indiana on July 1. Level 5 and 6 felonies are roughly equivalent to the current Class C and D felonies. A Level 6 felony conviction could mean a jail term of six months to three years in state prison, while Level 5 convictions could result in prison terms of two to eight years.
Under SB 101, Indiana law would give agricultural facilities legal protection similar to that now provided to schools and churches, with an extensive definition of who constitutes an “authorized” person to be on the premises. This includes the owners and operators of the property, along with anyone authorized to have their personal property on the premises.
The current SB 101 is the product of changes offered in the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law by the sponsor, state Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle). He amended his own bill to focus on actual damages rather than banning undercover videotaping, the approach past “ag-gag” bills have taken.
From the plain language of the bill now heading to a House vote, it might not fit the description the Humane Society of the United States came up with a couple years ago of the elements that are typically found in an ag-gag bill.
Those required elements are: 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.
HSUS’s state director for Indiana was last reported to be studying the amended bill.© Food Safety News