BOISE -- A bill that would punish those who secretly film and photograph Idaho's farms and dairies is one step away from becoming law.
Senate Bill 1337 passed the house by a vote of 56-14 Wednesday. The measure passed the senate earlier this week. The legislation is now pending Governor Otter's signature to become law.
Proponents of the bill include the Idaho Dairymen's Association, whose members say it protects them from activists who overstep their boundaries. Those against the bill include the ACLU of Idaho, whose members say it limits free speech.
"The strong support both in the Senate and the House shows that the legislators did their due diligence, studied the need for the bill, and came out on the side that it was time for this type of legislation," said Bob Naerebout, Executive Director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.
Naerebout said existing trespassing laws do not cover what happened with Mercy for Animal in 2012 at an Idaho dairy. An undercover investigator gained employment at a Bettencourt Dairy, then secretly filmed animal abuse, before releasing the video to the media.
"The reason the bill ran is because Mercy for Animals overstepped an ethical line when they went and attacked the producer, and tried to get his market to be taken away from him, that's the line that they crossed, and where we looked at it, and said it was time to create some additional protection for all of agriculture," said Naerebout. "All of agriculture strongly supported this bill."
Naerebout said the agriculture industry is not trying to hide anything with this bill.
"The dairy producers take great care of their cattle," he said. "What they (the public) see in those videos is not how the dairy industry runs. Our dairymen, and all dairymen across this nation, take care of their cattle. If you take care of the cattle, they take care of you."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho took a stand against the bill.
"This bill is like a lot of bills we've seen across the nation that are known as 'ag-gag' bills," said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho. "Basically what these bills do is limit someone's freedom of speech, and violate, basically, whistle blower protections by not allowing people to report what may be animal abuse or crimes, and actually making such things crimes themselves."
Hopkins is also concerned that the bill is too broad.
"There are other criminal charges that can be brought to get at the heart of what the agricultural industry is trying to get at, and instead, they're going for this broad, overreaching bill that would criminalize free speech," she said.
Hopkins and the ACLU also worry this bill could have a negative effect on journalism and reporting, not just at agricultural facilities.
"What carves out agricultural facilities are special when it comes to private property rights?" asked Hopkins. "Are we saying also that we want to apply this to abortion clinics? That we want to apply this to child care facilities? Those sort of investigative reporting items that come to the forefront where people have gained access to these private pieces of property, where they have videotaped things going on and then we hold people accountable."
Governor Otter's chief of staff said the governor will not comment on the issue until he gets the bill, which will likely be some time next week.