Legally Brief: Taking Out the Gag in Ag Gag LegislationPosted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on January 30, 2014
Huge news this week! As we explained, the proposed U.S. Farm bill will not include the dreaded King Amendment, which would have meant horrible news for animals—and prevented your state from setting its own health, safety, and animal welfare standards on imported agricultural products. But the King Amendment was only one cog in the wheel of the continued assault on animal welfare and the plight of farmed animals. By now, you’ve heard about so-called “ag gag” bills rearing their heads in state legislatures to protect the agricultural industry from scrutiny. These laws attempt to “gag” animal activists and other law abiding citizens from exposing chronic and illegal animal abuse—exposure that is constitutionally protected by the laws of our land. And that is why ALDF’s landmark lawsuit against Utah’s unconstitutional ag gag law is so important. But what else is happening in the world of ag gag?
In New Hampshire, a “Mandatory Reporting” ag gag bill was just tabled last week and thus is essentially dead for at least another year. This particular bill tried hard to clothe itself in anti-cruelty rhetoric. ALDF and our legislative affairs team worked with numerous animal protection organizations to shut this bill down.
Similarly, the new Indiana ag gag bill was just amended to simply addressing criminal damage to institutional property resulting from trespass to agricultural facilities—which is already illegal. The bill still puts factory farms in an institutional category with schools and houses of worship, but there is no real impact from its provisions. Although the final language is still being worked out, and nothing is over until the session ends, the decimation of this bill is another big victory in 2014 for animals.
Everyone is watching Colorado at the moment, now that New Hampshire’s dangerous bill is off the table. Unlike New Hampshire, Colorado’s “Mandatory Reporting” ag gag bill mandates the reporting of all cruelty, abandonment, or neglect to any animal, not just “livestock.” This reporting must be done within 24 hours to either the animal’s “owner” or to law enforcement officers. The bill also makes false reporting of cruelty to law enforcement a crime, which would create a difficult Catch-22 for the average citizen who may not understand what constitutes criminal cruelty. Indeed, a person could face prosecution for not reporting an act she believes to be cruelty, but then on the other hand be prosecuted if what she reports turns out not to be. In reality, the whole point of such mandatory or “Quick-Reporting” bills is to force animal abuse investigators to reveal themselves at the first sign of any cruelty, and thereby hinder their ability to gather evidence of a systemic pattern of abuse involving the management or owners of ag facilities.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance—an industry group ALDF called out last year for making ludicrous claims against animal advocates, with absolutely no evidence—has declared they intend to make such Mandatory/Quick Reporting bills their main objective this year. The darker goal of the Alliance is to nip animal cruelty investigations in the bud. Their real motivation is to hide the truth about chronic animal abuse on factory farms, even if it means doing everything they can to prevent the investigation and exposure of illegal animal cruelty. Last year animal advocates were able to kill all 11 state ag gag bills that were attempted, so far we are 2 for 2 in 2014. All attention now turns to Colorado.