BOISE • A bill banning unauthorized recordings on farms and dairies, the so-called “ag-gag” measure, awaits the governor’s signature after clearing the Idaho House on Wednesday.
House members voted 56-14. The bill already has passed the Senate, so it only needs approval from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
State Rep. Donna Pence of Gooding was the only Democrat who voted for the bill, while Reps. Lynn Luker of Boise and Steven Harris of Meridian were the only Republicans to oppose it.
“This adds a level of protection to Idaho’s agriculture industry, which it deserves and needs,” said state Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer. “I have an agriculture production facility on my farm. You’re welcome to visit anytime, but not without permission.”
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, would ban unauthorized video and audio recording on agricultural facilities. Under the bill, an employee or trespasser who records abuse on a dairy or farm would be in violation and subject to up to a year in jail and $5,000 fine.
“I think the message we’re sending is that we’re not hiding anything, but we do protect property rights,” Kauffman said.
State Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, also defended the bill, saying a recent Idaho attorney general’s opinion found that the bill did not violate the First Amendment.
Lawmakers who opposed it said they were worried about the bill hindering First Amendment rights.
State Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said the bill isn’t about property rights because it protects only one industry.
The dairy and agriculture industry are trying to prevent images and videos of abuse from being spread on the Internet, she said, inhibiting free speech.
“I’m Jewish, and I would fight to the death for the right for Nazis to speak,” she said. “Everyone is equally slammed by free speech. It’s an equal opportunity slammer.”
The so–called “ag-gag” bill is being backed by Idaho’s $2.5 billion dairy industry after an animal rights group released footage in 2012 of animal abuse on a dairy owned by Luis Bettencourt.
An undercover investigator, hired by Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals, recorded video of employees stomping on cows, beating them with a pink cane and dragging one cow with a chain around its neck by a tractor. After the bill passed the Senate, Mercy for Animals released additional footage showing one worker touching a cow’s vagina. That employee was arrested and served more than 100 days in jail.
Mercy for Animals has gathered more than 100,000 signatures from those who oppose the bill and has protested twice on the steps of the Capitol.
If Idaho passes SB1337, said state Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, it signals to the rest of country that the state has something to hide.
“The words in the bill don’t really matter,” Burgoyne said. “My concern about this legislation is simply how it’s going to be perceived and what that portrays to the rest of the world about Idaho’s agriculture.”