By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A central Illinois legislator has filed legislation that would criminalize the reporting of inhumane treatment of animals on farms that is later determined to be false or unfounded.
Similar legislation in Illinois last year was tabled, and the new bill filed by state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Champaign whose district covers 10 counties, would make it a crime to knowingly make false charges of cruelty or neglect against farmers.
The short act would amend the state’s existing Humane Care for Animals Act. If the state’s agriculture department “determines that a complaint made under this act against a person or entity is false or unfounded and made with the intent to harass the person or entity, the department may waive any confidentiality of the complainant and refer the matter to the state’s attorney for consideration of criminal charges against the complainant,” it states.
In a brief statement, Rose said he believes farmers have the right to feel protected against anyone or groups that falsely attempt to attack their way of life.
Environmentalists and animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) already have called Rose’s one of the latest so-called “ag-gag” bills – measures they believe attempt to silence people who work to expose abuse on what they call large-scale “factory farms.”
In addition to Illinois, six other states have similar bills pending before state legislatures this year, including Indiana, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Nebraska.
Last month the Wyoming House passed a similar bill that also makes it a crime to videotape on private property without the owner’s consent, although the law states a person is immune from civil prosecution if alleged abuses are reported within 48 hours. The bill now is before the Senate.
Iowa approved an animal protection bill last year, called the Agricultural Production Facility Fraud act, which makes it a crime to “fraudulently gain access to a farm with the intent to cause harm.” It joined five other states with ag protection laws, including Missouri, Utah, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, according to HSUS.
The organization holds up the Wyoming legislation as a timely example of how similar laws will stifle the public’s ability to keep large farm operations from abusing animals and or putting the environment at risk.
The bill was introduced a few weeks after nine factory workers at Wyoming Premium Farms, which supplies Tyson Foods, were charged with animal cruelty after HSUS members videotaped them kicking piglets, swinging them by their hind legs and beating mother pigs. The videographers did not have permission to film.
In Illinois, organic farmer Karen Hudson – an activist with Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water – said the group will fight Chapin’s proposal.
“We will stand strong with many other organizations and thousands of Illinois residents in opposition to this bill,” she said, alleging the livestock industry wants to “gag” the public to hide unreported cases of abuse, pollution and illegal runoff from farms.