According to the sponsor, Washington state agricultural representatives feared testifying Tuesday at a public hearing for a proposed bill to outlaw espionage by animal-welfare activists against farms and ranches. State Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) says farmers and the organizations that represent them remained silent because “they’re scared of repercussions of just expressing an opinion.” Schmick’s House Bill (HB) 1104 would make collecting records or making audio or video recordings with the intention of causing physical or economic damage a gross misdemeanor under Washington state law. “Every farmer — and I’m speaking as a farmer — is scared to death of misrepresentation when we’re doing everything right,” Schmick said. Opponents of HB 1104, which would create a new crime of “interference with agricultural production,” view the measure as only the latest in a series of “ag-gag” bills that would make it difficult to investigate agricultural animal abuse at farms and ranches. Iowa, Idaho, Missouri and Utah have recently adopted similar measures. Federal court challenges are pending against the laws in Utah and Idaho. Opponents did turn out Tuesday at the House Public Safety Committee hearing in Olympia, including a spokesman for the Humane Society of the Untied States, which has successfully spearheaded opposition to “ag-gag” laws that have been introduced in more than a dozen other states. The Washington State Labor Council, the state AFL-CIO, also came out against HB 1104, saying the legislature “must not criminalize those who bring these abuses to light.” Schmick said he is willing to work on the language of his bill, but House Minority Floor Leader J.T. Wilcox pulled his name off HB 1104, saying that he doubted the measure would get very far. “It seemed to me the reception was not strong, was not favorable in committee,” said Wilcox, whose family runs Wilcox Family Farms in Yelm. Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, agreed, saying it’s unlikely H.B. 1104 will advance.