Wednesday 24 January 2018

‘Ag Gag’ Bills Would Stop Undercover Animal Abuse Investigations

Iowa may be the first state in the nation to pass a so-called “ag-gag” bill. Under a measure passes by the Senate (40-10) and approved by the House (69-28), it would be a crime to lie on an employment application or use other false pretenses to gain access to a livestock operation in order to take action not authorized by the owner (See AP Report).

Recent undercover investigations of animal abuse on factory farms, including an expose of an Iowa egg producer by “20/20,” have relied on hidden camera video from activists who have taken jobs at the farms. If signed the new law will make turn the tables on animal rights groups doing these undercover investigations. It gives Iowa’s county sheriffs a long list of possible violations to charge once it is disclosed that any filming or recording was done without the permission of the animal facility owner.

Governor Branstad is likely to sign the bill leaving the only question being whether the law is constitutional. The main constitutional hurdle facing the law is one of “prior restraint” the effort to stop speech before it occurs. The Supreme Court has said injunctions preventing the exercise of speech should be viewed very skeptically–they carry “a presumption of unconstitutionality.”

The Des Monis Register interviewed Mark Kende, a law professor and director of Drake University’s Center of Constitutional Law who expressed doubt the law would pass constitutional muster. He told the Register that courts have considered prior restraint the most sweeping kind of free speech restriction.

“This sounds like it has elements of prior restraint, and that’s troubling,” said Kende. “The framers” of the U.S. Constitution “were very hostile to anything that snapped at prior restraints.”

Expect the opposition to the bill to continue to grow. “We believe that this would be one of the most dangerous precedent-setting bills to shelter animal abusers from public scrutiny in the nation,” said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, a national group based in Chicago that is hosting the protest.

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