By a vote of 56 to 14, the Idaho House of Representatives has passed Senate Bill 1337, a measure that is intended to protect farmers by adding additional penalties to those who would otherwise secretly record activities on their premises without permission.
“This bill is about private property rights and the privacy of our own homes and businesses,” said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder. “I urge your support of this.”
Senate Bill 1337 was inspired by an incident from 2012 at a dairy in Hansen. Activists with a group calling themselves “Mercy for Animals” captured video of staffers beating cows, an event that drew the entire dairy industry into controversy.
Supporters of the bill contend that farm operators need additional means of protecting themselves from those who would seek to publicly humiliate or damage them.
Opponents nicknamed the bill the “ag gag” bill, arguing that it could intimidate and stifle whistle-blowers who observe actual animal cruelty.
“Some people have made the comment that this will not criminalize whistle-blowing,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “I’ve read the attorney general’s opinion on this and I have some disagreements with it. The bill does criminalize documenting a crime. There is no protection to this law if you show up and report a crime. Reporting a crime is speech, and that is what we are criminalizing.”
“Most of the criticism of this bill has focused on animal cruelty,” noted Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell. “That is not what the bill is about. Look at the videos taken at the dairies. If the focus was animal cruelty, then the abuse would have been reported, but it was not.”
On this point, Bolz, who is a retired county extension agent, shares a common view of the bill with Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. After Senate Bill 1337 passed in the Senate on Feb. 14, Rice spoke with IdahoReporter.com.
“Many who oppose this bill claim that it will inhibit whistle-blowers, but it will not,” he stated. “We have seen evidence where animal rights activists obtain video that allegedly depicts animal abuse, but rather than reporting that abuse to authorities and seeking help for injured animals, they use the video for political fund-raising purposes. It would seem that some people aren’t so concerned about the well-being of animals so much as they are concerned about damaging farmers and agribusiness.”
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, noted from the House floor that “there is a difference between reporting a crime and investigating a crime. We all have a duty to report crimes when we are aware of them, but investigating a crime is left to the authorities.”
“I have owned businesses in this state where animals were a part of my business,” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said. “I would never want there to be cruelty perpetrated against these animals because animal cruelty is wrong, and that hurts the bottom line of my business as well. But what we’re dealing with here is essentially a private property rights issue and I urge a yes vote.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his consideration.