A bill in the Indiana legislature would make it illegal to photograph or record video of a workplace hazard at a farm or industrial operation and use the pictures to defame or harm the business. What effect might this have on occupational safety and health?
Indiana Senate Bill 373 (PDF), known as the Ag-Gag bill, would make it a misdemeanor for a person with the intent to harm a business to:
- enter private property
- take a photo or make a video of the agricultural or industrial property, and
- distribute the photograph of recording without the written consent of the owner or an authorized representative.
The maximum penalty would be six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The bill already passed the state senate, 30-20. The state house is now taking up the bill. A previous effort to pass the bill last year wasn’t successful.
Five other states (Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Utah) have already passed similar measures.
Why do some feel this type of law is necessary? It has to do with efforts by animal rights activists to portray the conditions at large farming operations. Farmers claim this has been a “nightmare” for them.
At egg producer Rose Acre Farms in Madison County, Iowa, a man got a job and then filmed chickens that were dead or disfigured and then distributed the film.
Would bill chill whistleblowers?
Opponents of the bill pointed out that this would stop employees from gathering evidence about a occupational safety and health hazard at farm, manufacturing and mining facilities.
That point has been addressed in amendments to the original bill. Taking these types of photos or videos wouldn’t be against the law if the person:
- believes he was recording evidence of illegal activity
- provides the recording to a law enforcement of regulatory agency within 48 hours, and
- doesn’t distribute the recording to anyone other than a law enforcement or regulatory agency.
So whisteblowers reporting safety or other types of illegal activity wouldn’t face arrest if they avoid giving their material to anyone but the authorities.
Questions still remain about the bill. The Speaker of the Indiana House has said that body is “considering some major revisions to the bill.”
What do you think about this bill and similar laws in other states? Let us know in the comments below.