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Testimony: ‘Employee would have been fired,’ ‘Chills freedom of speech,’ ‘Property rights issue’

Among those testifying at this morning’s hearing on SB 1337:

Brent Olmstead, executive director of Milk Producers of Idaho, said, “The idea that livestock operators routinely abuse animals … is ludicrous. … An abused dairy cow does not produce milk to the quality and quantity that the dairymen require.” He said if the employee who took the video of workers abusing cows at Bettencourt Dairy had instead “gone to Mr. Bettencourt, the exact same result would have happened … the employees would have been fired.”

Monica Hopkins of the ACLU of Idaho said, “This bill is unnecessary as Idaho already has trespassing laws. … A law like this chills the 1st Amendment, chills freedom of speech and makes employees think twice about potentially reporting something that may be a crime.”

Russ Hendricks of the Idaho Farm Bureau said, “This is first and foremost a private property rights issue. … Every landowner does have the right to control who has access to his property, the right to his business records … and that potential employees will not misrepresent their intentions to falsely gain access to the property.”

Marty Durand said the bill would ban employee whistle-blowers from taking photos of things like blocked fire exits. Under questioning from senators on the committee, she acknowledged that the employee could still report the blocked exit, but noted that the bill would ban the worker from photographing it; she said union organizers routinely photograph such job site conditions and the law protects that.

Lou Murgoitio, a lifetime dairy producer, said, “It has been and still is of the utmost importance as a producer to care, feed and take care of my animals. They are the economic drivers to my success over the years, along with the advice of veterinarians, nutritionists, state and federal inspectors and other consultants. I continue to produce a rich, nutritious product for the consumers.”

Courtney Washburn of the Idaho Conservation League said, “I believe this legislation would deter citizens from making complaints regarding agricultural operations.” She said her group is concerned that the bill’s definition of agricultural facilities includes publicly owned lands.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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