Taking pictures or shooting video on a farm without permission could fetch hefty fines and possible jail time under a bill proposed by Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster.
The bill, introduced Sept. 25, adds a new section to Pennsylvania’s ag trespassing law, making it a misdemeanor to shoot photos or videos on a farm without an owner’s consent.
Violators would face fines of up to $5,000 and up to two years in jail.
The bill is likely in response to an undercover video shot by a former employee of Kreider Farms, who worked at the company’s Manheim laying hen facility between January and March. Kreider Farms is in Brubaker’s district.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released the video in early April, which according to the animal-rights group showed “deplorable” conditions inside Kreider’s Manheim facility.
State ag officials later defended the company’s operations after several inspections days after the video was released.
“This is not the first time that a local business has been unfairly targeted by activists, but this case serves as a startling example of the kind of damage that unfounded accusations can create,” Brubaker said in an email announcing the bill.
“It is important to ensure agricultural operations comply with necessary health and safety standards,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean these businesses should be forced to endure all sorts of harmful, unverified allegations.”
Several other states are considering similar bills and at least two states, Iowa and Utah, have passed laws making it a crime for anyone to apply for a job on a farm under false pretenses.
HSUS and other animal-rights groups have referred to these as “ag gag” laws, claiming that they intentionally try to block potential whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty on farms.
Lawmakers in Iowa originally considered what was to be the nation’s toughest law outlawing undercover videotaping or photography on farms, making it illegal to possess or distribute undercover audio and video recordings to the public.
But pressure from that state’s attorney general, according to an article in the Des Moines Register, forced lawmakers to modify the bill and take out wording specifying audio and video recordings.
The U.S. Supreme Court, the article states, has ruled that a film exposing animal cruelty represents an individual’s right to free speech.
Other states, including Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York, are considering similar laws.
Missouri passed a law earlier this year requiring anyone with photos or video of animal abuse or neglect on farms to share that evidence with law enforcement within 24 hours of the incident occurring.
Reached Wednesday by phone, Brubaker said his bill does not bar a potential whistleblower from issuing a complaint against a farming operation and that the intent is to discourage people from releasing photos or videos that can’t be traced back to a farm or other business in question.
“A whistleblower can still blow a whistle. We want them to do it in a proper manner. There is a proper procedure to file a complaint to the authorities,” he said.
Kristin Crawford, Brubaker’s legislative director and chief of staff, said in an email that the bill would likely go the Senate’s ag committee, though likely not in this short term since lawmakers have pledged not to have a “lame duck” session.
“Although there are not a great many legislative days remaining in the 2011-2012 session, the senator felt it was important to start the discussion,” Crawford said.