BOISE – Legislation to criminalize surreptitious filming at agricultural operations cleared an Idaho House committee with just one “no” vote on Thursday, and now heads to the full House.
The Senate earlier passed the bill on a 23-10 vote; it comes in the wake of a covertly taken video at a southern Idaho dairy that showed workers severely abusing cows and led to five arrests. Commercials featuring the graphic video are being aired during Olympics coverage in the Boise area, urging people to contact their lawmakers and oppose the bill.
The lopsided vote came after a three-and-a-half-hour hearing at which passionate testimony was evenly split for and against the measure, SB 1337; farmers said they need protection from spying, while animal-protection backers said it’ll allow abuse to go undetected.
Tony VanderHulst, chairman of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, told the House Agriculture Committee, “This is not about hiding anything. This is about exposing the real agenda of these radical groups that are engaged in terrorism.”
Brent Olmsead, head of Milk Producers of Idaho, said the idea that the abuse shown in the video is typical at Idaho farms is “ludicrous.”
Scott Beckstead, a Humane Society of the United States official who said he was born and raised on a Twin Falls, Idaho farm, said, “I would submit that this bill poses a greater threat to Idaho agriculture than all the video camera-wielding vegans in the world, because what this bill says is that Idaho agriculture does have something to hide.” Consumers will take note, he said.
Dan Steenson, attorney for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said he drafted the bill because “extremist groups implement vigilante tactics” to go after farmers. He said, “Facing this type of assault in the court of public opinion, farmers have no opportunity to defend themselves.”
To become law, the so-called “ag gag” bill needs passage in the full House and the governor’s signature. Violators would face up to a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.