With the clock ticking down to adjournment today, the Missouri Senate pulled a surprise late Thursday by not bringing up the so-called “ag-gag” bill but instead passing an omnibus agriculture law with some changes in law that look like an ag-gag compromise.
After a long day in Jefferson City, the Senate voted 25-5 for final passage of “a House substitute to the Senate substitute of substitute Senate Bill 631,” a grab-bag bill containing a couple dozen separate agricultural measures.
In the new law, Missouri requires anyone with pictures or video of animal abuse or neglect to share them with law enforcement within 24 hours. The originals remain as property of the owner, who does not have to give them up.
Existing law on trespass is also made a little tougher in the bill, which might represent a deal between animal rights advocates and Missouri agriculture.
Sen. Mike Parson, R-Polk, urged his colleagues to adopt the conference committee report that put the agricultural bill up for a third and final reading in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly.
After Parson explained the bill, another senator said language should satisfy those who’ve emailed lawmakers about the so-called “ag-gag” law, House Bill 1860, that was passed earlier in the session by the Missouri House.
“Share it with law enforcement, and you are done,” Parson, himself a former sheriff, said.
Parson depicted SB 631 as containing about every agricultural item expected to pass this session, but he did not say whether or not HB 1860 would also be brought up. Earlier in the day, it had cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it had been sent for a last-minute fiscal checkup.
In the lengthy SB 631, covering everything from biodiesel incentive payments to agricultural education in private schools, the penalty for trespass in the first degree is increased to a Class A misdemeanor, from the current Class B. It also adds a definition for “trespasser” to include any person who enters a property without permission or invitation, whether or not the property is posted.
It gives the property owner to use “justifiable force” to repel a trespasser in the same manner as other current allowances of justifiable force. It also increases penalties for impersonating a law enforcement officer.
These new provisions in Missouri, however, fall far short of the definition for “ag-gag” laws.
New laws were enacted in Iowa and Utah earlier this year that make it a crime for whistleblowers working undercover to take pictures or make videos of animal abuse and neglect.
“Ag-gag” laws containing those provisions were introduced this year in 10 states.
Animal rights groups say “ag-gag” laws would make “whistle-blowing on factory farms essentially impossible.”
If Missouri does not bring SB 1860 back up before Friday’s adjournment, “ag-gag” bills will have died in eight states: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, and Missouri.
Two decades ago, Kansas, North Dakota, and Montana passed earlier versions of “ag-gag” laws, but there is no record of those being used.