Proposed bill 2014's first ag protection law

Jan 10, 2014

In what is likely a long list of firsts for the year 2014, the derisive moniker of “ag gag” has been applied to a proposed Indiana law by animal rights groups. The law in question focuses mostly on trespass and trains, but does include an interesting detail that could even give the agricultural world pause.

Indiana Senate Bill 101 was introduced last Monday, authored and submitted by Indiana Senator Travis Holdman (R-IN). It is an amendment to the Indiana Code concerning criminal law and procedure. Among other things, the bill would allow agricultural operations to “conspicuously post” a list of prohibited activities and would make the intentional committing of any of those activities a Level 6 felony.

As it reads in the bill: “An agricultural operation… may conspicuously post a notice at the agricultural operation’s locations that lists prohibited acts that may compromise the agricultural operation’s trade secrets or operations. The notice must be posted in a manner that is likely to come to the attention of the public. A person who knowingly or intentionally commits an act at an agricultural operation that is a prohibited act listed on a notice described [above] commits a Level 6 felony.”

In Indiana, a Level 6 felony comes with a minimum half-year prison sentence.

In response to WLJ’s questions regarding the bill, Joe Moore, Executive Vice President for the Indiana Beef Cattle Association (IBCA), said that the IBCA believes the bill “has merit for farmers” on matters of trespass.

“We believe that changing the current trespass language from only applying to dwellings and adding real property relating to trespassing on an agricultural operation is appropriate. We also support the addition of raising the criminal penalties due to pecuniary loss on an agricultural operation which was the result of a trespass,” he said, referencing various details listed later on in the bill.

The proposed amendment immediately drew criticism from animal rights groups, which called it another “whistleblower suppression” law or the aforementioned derisive catch-phrase. Interestingly, however, a coalition of journalists and media groups have also denounced the bill as “a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the state of Indiana.”

Douglas Masson, a litigation-focused attorney of Indiana with past experience with the Legislative Services Agency of the Indiana General Assembly, opined that the bill would effectively allow operators of agricultural properties to define their own felonies.

“There is no standard or review for what acts the agricultural operation can list on its notice. If they list it and you do it; you’re a felon!” On that element of SB 101, Moore expressed regret.

“Unfortunately, the bill was filed before the language concerning ‘create your felony’ could be removed. It is now being withdrawn by amendment and the committee is scheduled to vote on that amendment next week. The IBCA joins the rest of the livestock groups in opposing that provision of the bill.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor