By MEGGIE. I. FOSTER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Legislation that would prohibit animal activists from taking damaging videos or photographs on Indiana farms is quickly gaining ground in the Indiana General Assembly, picking up a few big name opponents along the way.
Introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Bluffton, Ind.), Senate Bill 373 would make it an infraction (later amended to a slightly more serious misdemeanor, punishable up to 180 days in jail) to videotape or photograph on a farm or industrial operation without the owner’s written consent with the intent to defame or harm the owner of the operation.
Last month, SB 373 was approved by the House agriculture committee by a vote of 9-3. The Senate agriculture committee approved a version of the bill in early March. On Monday, April 8, the bill was to face the Judiciary committee, upon request of House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who questioned whether the legislation was acceptable based on questions surrounding a conflict with the First Amendment.
Opponents of the bill such as the Motion Picture Assoc., Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, bassist Tony Kanal of the band No Doubt and former Price is Right host Bob Barker have written letters contending that bill would prevent First Amendment rights to free speech and also wrongly punish whistleblowers reporting animal cruelty.
However, according to bill sponsor Rep. Bill Friend (R-Macy, Ind.) any possible conflict with the First Amendment was cleared up, after he introduced and the House ag committee approved, a series of amendments including taking out references to the distribution of the video/photograph. While it will be considered a crime to photograph or videotape inside a livestock barn without permission of the owner, with the intent to harm, it is not a crime to distribute that video/photograph by any means including posting to social media sites such as Facebook or sending to a news publication such as The Indianapolis Star.
Additionally, Friend said that some aspects of the “whistleblower” will remain in the bill.
“So let’s say you get a job on a farm and you see some evil things going on and you take photographs of the incident.
If you take those photos to law enforcement within 48 hours you are exonerated,” said Friend. “This not only applies to farms, but also to manufacturing, including protecting trade secrets or depicting dangerous situations.”
Friend added that “we’re trying to get this bill to a better place and many of our critics agree.”
According to Bob Kraft, director of state government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau, “this legislation was created to protect not only livestock farmers, but other farmers as well. But it’s important to note that Indiana Farm Bureau is not supporting this to hide anything, this is about protecting private property. We don’t condone the mistreatment of animals. That’s why the 48-hour regulation is such an important and integral part of this legislation.”
Kraft added that an amendment was also recently approved elevating the crime from an infraction to a misdemeanor.
“It’s more serious on your record than an infraction,” he explained.
The judiciary committee, made up of law professionals, met on Monday to review any further legal conflicts within the language of the bill, according to Kraft.
“One of the main complications with the bill is that everyone carries a cell phone with a camera on it now and it’s so easy to distribute that photo or video to the entire world,” Friend said. “Essentially, it all comes down to your agenda.”
After the judiciary committee hearing, the bill if approved, including any possible amendments, will go to the second reading, “where anyone can amend it.” If approved on the second reading, it will appear on the floor for its third reading and face final passage.
“We’ve addressed some of the attorney questions,” said Friend. “Some of the democratic members of the General Assembly supported by the unions still don’t like the manufacturing piece, but in general we believe the bill will receive favorable consideration by the members.”