Noted Republican tells Indiana legislature to ditch “AgGag” bill

April 2, 2013-by Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service-Indiana

An Indiana University law professor is questioning the constitutionality of Indiana’s so-called Ag-Gag bill, a measure supporters claim will protect farmers from exploitation by activist groups.

Senate Bill 373 will be heard next on the floor of the Indiana House after passing a committee with a major amendment last Thursday. The amendment by the House sponsor, Representative Bill Friend, makes it a Class A misdemeanor to photograph at a farm or business without written permission from the owner.

IU law professor Seth Lahn said he believes the bill violates the First Amendment.

“Whether you come at it from a position of food safety or working conditions or animal cruelty – it gets into a number of areas that, I think, the courts have always recognized – and common sense tells you, is an issue the public has an interest in hearing about.”

Illustration © 2011 John Blair

Illustration © 2011 John Blair

Lahn noted that there already are legal ways to get at prohibited conduct: charges of trespassing, fraud, and destruction of property. Friend’s amendment also added a new crime to the bill: lying on a job application with the intent of harming a business. No public comment was allowed on the amendment before the bill passed out of committee 9 to 3 on a party-line vote.

The state director of Indiana’s chapter of The Humane Society, Erin Huang, said she worries about what’s happening behind the scenes that brought this bill about.

“You know, big ag is trying to push this, and push a bill that would keep people from knowing what’s happening with their food production,” she said. “Just goes to show how much they have to hide. ”

National GOP strategist Mary Matalin, in an unlikely pairing with the animal-rights group PETA, released a video message directed at Hoosier lawmakers. She said that this time she agrees with her husband, Democratic party strategist James Carville.

“I’m sending you this video appeal because you have before you a bill that would criminalize filming on factory farms and in slaughterhouses,” Matalin said. “My husband James and I may be polar opposites on most political issues, but on this one we’re together: we are asking you to please vote against these ag-gag bills. ”

In the video, Matalin said that instead of fixing the problems, big agriculture interests are trying to blame the messenger. She listed farm-animal abuse cases in West Virginia and Iowa where undercover PETA videotapes helped prosecutors convict those responsible.

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