BOISE — A bill that would make it a crime to interfere with agricultural production in Idaho has been sent to the Senate floor with a “do-pass” recommendation.
The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee approved the legislation by a 7-1 vote Feb. 11. The action followed 2 1/2 hours of public testimony that went about 2-1 in favor of the bill.
The Ag Protection Act would make it a crime to knowingly interfere with any facility or land that is used for agricultural production.
Supporters said it is necessary to protect Idaho’s farming industry from sabotage and economic harm by anti-agriculture activists, while those opposed to it argued it would restrict free speech and potentially allow animal abuse to go unreported.
Republican Sen. Jim Patrick, a Twin Falls farmer who is carrying the bill in the Senate, said he has always allowed people to visit his farming operations and take pictures if they ask him.
“But I wouldn’t want anyone to come in without my permission,” he added. “There are groups out there that don’t like certain things we do … and commercial agricultural enterprises are at risk.”
The legislation makes it a crime for someone to “obtain employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic harm or other injury to the (operation).”
It would also be a crime to enter an ag facility without the owner’s consent and make an audio or video recording of the production facility’s operations.
Anyone found guilty of violating the law could be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to one year in jail and fined up to $5,000.
Idaho and national representatives of the Humane Society of the United States said the bill would stifle people’s First Amendment rights and allow animal abuse to go unreported.
Matthew Dominguez, HSUS’ national public policy manager, said the bill would jeopardize food safety, workers’ rights and animal welfare.
He named several instances in recent years where undercover HSUS employees filmed alleged animal abuse.
“It’s the only way we can ensure those types of things come to light in the future,” he said. If the bill passes, he added, an employee “could be criminally prosecuted for telling the truth.”
Idaho Dairymen’s Association Executive Director Bob Naerebout said the bill pertains to people who, through lies and deception, gain employment in an agricultural operation and then do economic harm and damage to that operation.
Naerebout said the bill is designed to protect all of agriculture, not just the dairy industry. Representatives of several Idaho farm commodities testified in favor of the legislation.
“Idaho farmers have the same right to privacy as everyone else in this room,” said IDA legal counsel Dan Steenson.
Terry Jones, a dairyman from Emmett, told lawmakers that Idaho producers need the legislation “not to hide what we are doing, but to protect what we are doing.”