INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposal that originally sought to crack down on secret videotaping at Indiana farms was rewritten this session to focus on trespassing, after animal-rights activists expressed concerns the effort could discourage whistleblowers from reporting animal cruelty on factory farms.
State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he introduced the original bill last session when he learned about an animal feed delivery man who videotaped conditions on a private farm to post on YouTube. Holdman argued the delivery man violated his "invitee status" and should've been subjected to criminal sanctions.
But although that bill focused on the secret videotaping, Holdman said negotiations between the House and Senate last year transformed it into a crack at employment application fraud. This year, the discussions — and Holdman's new bill — have centered on penalties for farm trespassers.
The Indiana Senate Criminal Law Committee delayed a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday amid a flurry of proposed amendments, said Chairman Mike Young, R-Indianapolis.
The bill aims to protect farmers who say that unwanted visitors could hurt their business by taking unflattering photos or sharing trade secrets. Violators could face felony charges.
"We've got existing trespassing laws where you would have to prove the person entering the property was denied entry, or that the property was properly signed 'No trespassing,'" said Josh Trenary, executive director of the Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition. "We want the same protection as someone in a dwelling, where going on their land still is considered trespassing."
Hoosier Environmental Council staff attorney Kim Ferraro said the motives of the proposal are clear.
"This is simply to stamp down and prevent the public from knowing what's going on at factory farms," Ferraro said. "It's a self-serving factory move, and unfortunately some members of the Legislature are buying into it."
Advocates of the bill argue prosecutors might be lenient on whistleblowers, but currently no language in the bill exempts intruders who expose illegal activities. A "safe harbor" for those who cause a loss of business by documenting unlawful acts is underway, Holdman said.
Another change to the bill could kill language allowing farmers to post signs banning potentially harmful activities on their property. Farmers and opponents of the bill alike have spoken against signage.
"No matter how it's drafted, we're going to be opposed to it," Humane Society of the United States spokesman Matthew Dominguez said. "People have a right to know where their food is coming from. They have a right to know how animals are treated on these industrial farms, and passing a law that punishes whistleblowers is not good policy."