It was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said that “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” He meant that various state legislatures, especially over a period of years, may try different solutions to the same problem. The “laboratories of democracy,” as state legislatures are often called, almost inevitability will try new ways to solve the same problem. lawsuit documentSince 2010, animal agriculture in one state after another has sought more protection for facilities that animal activists are known to surreptitiously enter in order to digitally record what’s going on inside. These activists are not out to do any physical harm, just emerge with evidence of animal abuse that may exist. The allegations are often carefully targeted at suppliers for national brands. Sometimes independent animal welfare experts agree with the allegations of abuse and sometimes they don’t. Food safety becomes a concern whenever animals are subject to severe pain or extreme discomfort. The largest beef recall in U.S. history occurred after one of these undercover activists filmed downer cows being moved to the “kill box” with a forklift. But animal agriculture interests in various states found the tactics it was facing were unfair. Usually the undercover operative lied to obtain access and departed with total control over the digital evidence. Animal agriculture began demanding new tough laws with criminal penalties for lying on an employment application form, prohibiting recordings of any kinds from areas not open to the public, and immediate reporting requirements for any kind of animal abuse, It is these laws that animal activists have labeled “ag-gag” bills because they would prevent negative information about animal agriculture from getting out. “Ag-gag” bills popped up in about 20 states from 2010 to 2014. Iowa, Idaho, Utah, and Missouri are among the states that adopted “ag-gag” laws during this time period. Those states hung their laws on their criminal statutes. Journalists are concerned about the sections of these state laws that appear to include a prior restraint against audio or video recording of private properties. And because both the Idaho and Utah “ag-gag” laws are being challenged in federal court, it was thought that other states might wait for those decisions. The first partial ruling is expected any day now in the challenge to Idaho’s law. U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill is expected to render a decision on First Amendment and Equal Protection aspects of the case. The challenge to Utah’s law is scheduled for trial during the third quarter of 2016. However, now the “laboratories of democracy” have added a new twist. North Carolina has come up with an “ag-gag” law that contains nothing from the old template at which the federal judges in Idaho and Utah are looking. The North Carolina law, which still needs the governor’s signature, is fairly simple. Any employee who wanders off to a closed area of the premises and collects something he or she is not permitted to have can be sued by the boss. The civil action could end up costing the employee up to $5,000 a day. But there would have to be real damages decided by a real judge. Criminal charges, prior restraint and deadlines for reporting any evidence of animal abuse are all missing from the North Carolina law. Those expected federal court rulings about the criminal based laws in Idaho and Utah won’t apply to the Tarheel State because it’s going the civil route. So North Carolina has cooked up something different in its lab. It’s trying to address the same issue, but with a completely different prescription. Animal activist organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States don’t like it any better and say that House Bill 405 is dangerous legislation. And that may be. But a law that merely sets up another cause of action for somebody to sue somebody is not exactly the sort of thing to lose sleep over. North Carolina is not putting the rest of the country at risk is they take this route. It seems to eliminate the constitutional wreckage created by the Idaho and Utah laws. And that’s what the “laboratories of democracy” are really about — deciding this is better than that.