Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Ag-Gag Proposal to Be Studied ; Stopping Trespassing or Stifling Speech?

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Ag-Gag Proposal to Be Studied ; Stopping Trespassing or Stifling Speech?

Article excerpt

Representatives of farming groups told Indiana state lawmakers this week they need legal protection from people who shoot photos and videos of their private operations. But critics of so-called ag-gag proposals say they are unnecessary and could violate constitutional rights to free speech.

The debate before the General Assembly's Economic Development Study Committee on Wednesday came five months after House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, killed a bill that would have made it a crime to secretly shoot photos or video on private property with the goal of harming a business.

Lawmakers instead sent the proposal to the study committee for more deliberation.

At issue in part are videos or images that animal rights groups use to try to discredit farming operations. Sometimes those are obtained when members trespass on private property and other times when they're on tours or get jobs at the businesses.

Josh Trenary, the director of business development at the Indiana Pork Producers Association, said the group has policies against animal abuse and is not arguing that such practices shouldn't be exposed.

"But just as we don't stand for animal abuse, we don't support any illegal act like trespassing," Trenary said.

The pork producers support strengthening laws against trespassing and making it illegal to obtain a job under false pretenses.

"We don't want our farms to be exploited by any activist's agenda," Trenary said.

But some of the proposals under consideration last year would have gone farther by making it a crime for news organizations to run footage obtained secretly on private property. Lawmakers amended the legislation to strengthen the state's trespassing laws, a proposal that seemed likely to become law.

But in the last days of the session, a broader version emerged that would have allowed prosecutors to charge individuals with trespassing - a Class A misdemeanor - if they secretly took photos or video on any private property and meant to do the business harm. …

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