The Idaho Senate, 23-10, has passed 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.
Senate Bill 1337 was inspired by an incident from 2012 at the Bettencourt Dairy in Hansen. Activists with a group called “Mercy for Animals” captured video imagery of Bettencourt 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, and argue that it could intimidate and stifle would-be whistle-blowers who observe actual animal cruelty.
During debate, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, noted that Idahoans reject both animal cruelty and the unfair stereotyping of farmers. “However, I am uncomfortable with criminalizing such a broad array of behavior,” adding that America has a “proud tradition” of exposing injustices and correcting them.
“This is primarily a private property rights issue,” Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, stated. “Employers should be free to have the expectation that their workers do not misrepresent them, and should be able to protect themselves if they are misrepresented.”
Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, noted that Werk and other Senate Democrats had “valid points” and debated against the bill as well. Noting that the bill only applies to the agricultural industry and not other types of enterprise, he said that “what I see here is an attempt to treat a symptom, rather than treating a disease.”
In addition to Bayer, joining Senate Democrats in opposing the bill were Republicans Russ Fulcher, Meridian; Shawn Keough, Sandpoint; and Curt McKenzie, Boise.
After the bill’s passage, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, co-sponsor of the bill, told IdahoReporter.com that “Many who oppose this bill claim that it will inhibit whistle-blowers, but it will not. 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.”
The bill will now go before a House committee for consideration.