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Eye On Boise

Senate debate: ‘Anti-attack the innocent bill,’ Written too broadly, ‘Harsh penalties on whistleblowers’

As the Senate debates SB 1337, the so-called “ag-gag bill,” Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “It’s an anti-attack the innocent bill. We want incidents of abuse of production animals reported immediately. That’s why we have policies where we will have an investigator there within 24 hours. … We have veterinarians available immediately to go out and make sure that the animals are cared for. … This bill does not prevent that from happening. It does not punish anyone from legitimately calling the Department of Agriculture and reporting the abuse of production animals in the state of Idaho.”

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said he’s reluctantly opposing the bill because it’s written too broadly. “It’s very broad in language and application,” McKenzie said. “It may go beyond what we intend.” McKenzie said the bill is so broadly worded that it could impose the new crime on someone who unintentionally trespassed onto a site on which some agricultural activities were occurring and took pictures, without any malicious intent. “I don’t think that’s a good way to write criminal code,” McKenzie said.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “We have the Right to Farm Act already. We have numerous trespassing laws in statute. … This bill creates a perception that the industry is hiding animal abuse.” She said it “also imposes harsh penalties on whistleblowers, journalists and others who expose … food safety issues” and other problems, like pollution of a city water supply by an agricultural practice. She said the bill raises 1st Amendment questions, and may violate federal whistleblower laws as well.

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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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