A bill to protect Indiana farmers from unauthorized videotaping on their farms is running into stiff opposition at the Statehouse. After passing easily through the Senate, SB 373 drew a standing room only crowd before the House Ag Committee last Thursday. Over 25 media, environmental, and animal activist groups testified against the bill which would impose penalties on anyone taking pictures or videotaping farming operations without the owner’s permission and with the intent to do harm to that operation. Indiana media organizations expressed strong disapproval of the bill that they claim is in violation of their First Amendment rights. Larry Delia, General Manager of WXIN, an Indianapolis television station, testified before the committee that the bill would prevent media undercover investigations of farms that he said is needed because government regulatory agencies are not capable of overseeing agricultural operations, “So many positives have come about because of our ability to investigate where the government has not been able to do so. In other words, we are the 4th estate and serve an important role in our society.” The Indiana Broadcasters Association and Hoosier Press Association also claimed the bill is unconstitutional. However, when pressed by committee members if similar bills passed in other states had been found unconstitutional, they could not answer.
Anne Sterling, with the IN chapter of HSUS, claimed that this bill would lead to more animal abuse occurring on Indiana farms, “This will create a safe haven for illegal and unethical activities in the state and gives the ag industry a black eye.” In what some saw as a veiled threat, she warned the committee, “The eyes of the nation are on this legislation.” Joining HSUS in opposing this measure were the Indiana CAFO Watch, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Citizens Actions Coalition, and several labor groups including the AFL-CIO. Several well-known radical activists from around the state also testified.
Testifying in support of the bill, Joe Moore, with Indiana Beef Cattle Association, said farmers are not hiding anything because they do not abuse animals, “Just to set the record straight, I think anyone who abuses animals should be put out of the business. I do not condone the abuse of any animal for any reason, and I don’t know of any farmers who do.” Moore said it is curious that, when famers make a profit, there is an automatic assumption that animals are being abused. Moore stressed in his testimony the harm that is done to farm families when untrue videos that misrepresent animal agriculture are made public by activist organizations.
Josh Trenary, with Indiana Pork, said the bill would still allow for the reporting of animal abuse while protecting the privacy of Indiana farm families, “This bill will protect the industry from activist exploitation while still addressing animal abuse concerns by focusing on punishing the person who committed the act.” He explained a person who videotaped animal abuse and turned the information over to authorities within 48 hours would not be violating the law. He added anyone who is truly interested in protecting animals should be in favor of this bill not opposed to it.
Joe Miller, with the Indiana Poultry Association, said such legislation is being passed in other states, “Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Utah, and Iowa have all passed similar bills. In addition, legislation like SB373 is currently being considered in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Hampshire.” He said these are states that value and support their agriculture and urged Indiana lawmakers to do the same.
Bob Kraft, with Indiana Farm Bureau, said this bill is needed because there is no other protection for Indiana farmers from this kind of exploitation by activist groups, “We need this bill because no place in the Indiana code is there a clear message to those who would record on a farm that they must have the owner’s permission to do so.” Also testifying in support of the measure was the Indiana Agribusiness Council, the Indiana Seed Trade Association, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
After 90 minutes of testimony, the committee did not take a vote on the bill, but is expected to do so this week. While statehouse sources told HAT the measure is likely to pass out of committee, it faces an uphill battle in the full House. The bill was authored by Sen. Travis Holdman and is being carried in the House by Rep. Bill Friend.