You read that correctly. Under Indiana’s SB 0373, anyone who sets foot on corporate property in order to document environmental, animal welfare, and health violations of these industries would face criminal penalties.
The bill has already passed the Senate, and is on track to pass the full House. It is part of a wave of similar legislation introduced across the country that have been dubbed “ag-gag” bills. [Here’s a detailed look at ag-gag efforts nationally.] But Indiana is poised to become the first state to pass an ag-gag bill this year.
This ag-gag trend is the brainchild of the Big Ag industry, working with the American Legislative Exchange Council. What’s especially troubling about Indiana’s bill, though, is that it extends far beyond factory farms to the timber, mining, and manufacturing industries.
The text of the bill lists “agricultural operations” such as “crops,” “livestock,” “poultry,” horticultural products,” and “growing timber.” It also lists “industrial operations,” which is pretty much everything connected to industry: the “manufacture of a product from other products, “transformation of a material from one form to another,” “mining of a material and related mine activities,” or “storage or disposition of a product or material.”
If that’s not bad enough, the bill also targets:
* Workers and whistleblowers — the bill places a 48-hour requirement on anyone reporting criminal activity, which makes it impossible to document a pattern of abuse.
* Journalists — the bill places special emphasis on anyone who “distributes, disseminates, or transfers the image, photograph, video recording, or motion picture,” and specifically targets those who distribute this materials to the press. The Hoosier State Press Association has spoken against it.
The bill includes a clause that says there’s an exemption if an individual had reason to believe there was illegal activity, AND they turn the photographs or video over to law enforcement within 48 hours. As I noted above, this time constraint makes it impossible to document a pattern of criminal activity. More importantly, the bill actually says the investigator can not “distribute or disseminate the photograph, recording, or motion picture to a person that is not a law enforcement officer or an agency with regulatory oversight of the industrial or agricultural operation.”
That’s a blunt attempt to chill First Amendment activity, and prevent these investigations from being handed over to journalists.
As the Indianapolis Star editorialized: “The measure is unnecessary and the cost is too great, not only to investigative journalists, animal rights activists and other keenly interested parties, but also to the general public.”
If you care about the environment, workers’ rights, animal welfare, or consumer safety, this bill is a blatant attempt to keep you in the dark. And it’s on the verge of passing.