Bills to protect animal agriculture facilities from outsiders seeking to document what goes on in these establishments were killed by legislatures in New Hampshire, Wyoming and New Mexico, but remain very much alive in a half dozen other states. By about this time last year, Iowa, Utah and Missouri had voted to turn these so-called ag-gag bills into state laws. The purpose of such legislation is to curb or block animal welfare investigations by making it a crime to take pictures or make videos of animal abuse without permission of the owner. Elements typically found in an “ag-gag” bill, according the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) include:
- Banning taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission,
- Essentially making it a crime for an investigator to get work at a factory farm, or
- Requiring mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that no pattern of abuse can be documented.
Bills with those provisions are moving in Indiana, Arkansas and possibly in Tennessee. Indiana Senate Bill (SB) 373 has already cleared the upper chamber and appears likely to get a floor vote in the Hoosier State’s general assembly before its scheduled April 27 adjournment. The powerful Indiana Farm Bureau is pushing the bill. Its “Hoosier Ag” news site says the bill “skillfully walks the line between privacy and the protection of animals.” “Videos of animal abuse can be taken and submitted to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours with no penalty, Hoosier Ag says. “This allows for the disclosure of real abuse to the people who can do something about it.” In Arkansas, SB 13, also requiring prompt reporting of animal abuse, was cleared for a floor vote with a “do pass” recommendation by the Senate Judiciary Committee with an amendment making owners responsible for the costs of care for seized animals. The Arkansas Legislature does not adjourn until sometime in May. SB 13, which limits animal cruelty investigations to law enforcement, is still in the Judiciary Committee and won’t be heard until at least April 2. The Tennessee “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248, was recommended for passage by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, but has yet to get the same green light from the Judiciary Committee. A companion bill in the House, HB1191, might get the first floor vote. The Nebraska Unicameral heard Legislative Bill 204 on March 14, and has not yet moved it out of the Judiciary Committee. Nebraska’s non-partisan lawmakers don’t go home until June. Both Pennsylvania and California, which have virtually year-round Legislatures, have pending “ag-gag” bills. Support by the California Cattlemen’s Association for Assembly Bill 343 caught the attention Wednesday of editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times. “A California Assembly bill that would require anyone who videotapes, photographs or records incidents of animal cruelty to turn over the evidence to authorities within 48 hours—or be charged with an infraction of the law—sounds like a tough new measure to crack down on abuse. It’s not,” the LA Times said. “In realty, its one of a crop of disturbing “ag-gag” bills being introduced across the country,” says the editorial. “Although AB 343 is not as bad as some others that ban outright recording and videotaping at animal facilities, it would effectively hamper animal welfare undercover investigators and employee whistle-blowers who are collecting information on a systematic animal cruelty at meatpacking plants, slaughterhouses, livestock ranchers and farms.” The LA editorial writers said AB 343 needs to be “…put out of its misery and killed quickly in committee.”