By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A bill that allows for the prosecution of anyone making a false claim of abuse or inhumane treatment of animals on farms has won unanimous approval in the Illinois Senate, while other so-called “ag-gag” bills in 10 other states have met different fates.
For instance, Indiana lawmakers late last month failed to call for a vote S.B. 373, which senators approved 29-21 but House members said was too broad and could cover all businesses instead of just ag operations.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis, said after the legislature adjourned that a more limited version of the bill likely will be considered during the next session.
“There’s clearly a need for protection from outside influences in regard to the ag industry,” Bosma said. “The question is the best remedy and one that doesn’t run afoul of the First Amendment.”
For that reason, Bosma suggested, lawmakers likely could approve a bill that would make it a crime for anyone to lie on a job application to obtain a farm job as well as add the crossing of a fence or barrier that clearly implies “no entry” as part of the definition of criminal trespass.
Possibly left out would be elements that would criminalize the video-taping of farming operations without the knowledge of owners, something the Humane Society of America and other animal rights groups say has led to the documentation of abuse cases.
Environmental activists and food safety group members in several states, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, say they will continue to try and defeat all such ag-gag laws, saying to handcuff people who are uncovering unsafe operations runs counter to free speech provisions and their desire to stop animal cruelty.
Tim Maloney, the senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the group will continue to oppose attempts by Indiana lawmakers to pass such a law, especially if it encompasses video prohibitions.
“If that is their intent – to make it a very wide-ranging law that simply seeks to keep the public from knowing what’s going on at these operations – I’m not sure that can pass constitutional muster,” Maloney said.
The Illinois measure, S.B. 1532, is limited compared to other legislation already approved – such as in Iowa last year, as well as in Missouri, Utah, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas. Iowa’s law, called the Agricultural Production Facility Fraud act, makes it a crime to “fraudulently gain access to a farm with the intent to cause
Illinois’ bill would allow local prosecutors to consider filing charges against anyone who files a report of abuse or inhumane treatment that later is determined to have been falsely made. There is no provision that bans video-taping of operations. It now sits in the House and is scheduled for consideration before the end of the month.
Meanwhile, a broader “ag-gag” bill was pulled this session in California, and some lawmakers said late last month they were unsure how it may be reconsidered during the next session.
Tennessee lawmakers recently approved a GOP-sponsored bill that now sits on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. He has until May 15 to veto it or let it become law. It would require people who document instances of animal abuse against livestock to turn over all images from still and video cameras to police within 48 hours. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
“At the end of the day we want to come back to looking at: Is it good policy? Is it constitutional? And do we think it’s something that will actually help the welfare of animals and livestock?” Haslam said last week.
The welfare of horses was behind the 2011 videotaping by a Humane Society operative of workers at a farm who dripped caustic chemicals onto the ankles of horses, known as “soring”, to force them to exaggerate the high-stepping gait that breeders desire. Federal prosecutors, based on the video, filed charges that led to pleas of guilty by the horse trainer and several workers a week later.
Versions of “ag-gag” bills remain pending in six other states, including North Carolina, Vermont, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Nebraska. Arkansas passed its law, and Gov. Mike Bebee signed it April 11, while bill in that passed in the Wyoming House was pulled and not voted on in the Senate.