A draft agriculture interference bill, which critics call an “ag-gag” proposal, has been introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives. The state’s annual legislative session was called to order Monday in Olympia.
House Bill 1104, sponsored by state Reps. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) and and J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm), has been all but promised a hearing by state Rep. Brian Blake, the Aberdeen Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
HB 1104 appears to be the first bill of its kind to be introduced for consideration in a 2015 legislative session. After federal district court judges in two different circuits agreed to hear constitutional challenges to “ag-gag” laws enacted by Idaho and Utah, some predicted that other states would wait to see if such measures are legal.
But the Washington state bill would enact language of the sort that has caused critics to challenge “ag-gag” laws. HB 1104 states that the guilty includes anyone who “enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner’s express written consent or pursuant to judicial process or clear statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the assets or conduct of an agricultural production facility’s operations … .”
Conviction under Section 1 of HB 1104 would be a gross misdemeanor under Washington state law. Penalties could include up to one year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
While Blake said he’d like the proposal to get a hearing, he called it an “interesting and potentially difficult bill.” HB 1104 had initially been assigned to the House Public Safety Committee, not Agriculture.
Schmick, whose district is adjacent to Idaho, acknowledges that he tailored HB 1104 on the Gem State’s new law. He says he wants a “strong deterrent” against taking pictures or recording operations of agricultural facilities without permission.
The first such laws were adopted in 1990-91 in Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. Four more states have adopted similar measures since 2010, including Idaho, Utah, Iowa and Missouri.
Animal-rights groups that use undercover agents to collect evidence to advance their cases have opposed ag-gag measures, both in the legislative process and in federal courts.
State legislatures are just getting underway for 2015. As of yesterday, Washington was one of 29 states with legislatures in session. According to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, 44 states will be making new laws by end of the month.© Food Safety News