Farm groups say Ag Security Act is constitutional
BOISE — The dairy group that authored legislation that makes it a crime to secretly film or interfere with agricultural operations in Idaho is confident it will withstand a pending federal lawsuit.
“We’re confident it is constitutional and we have a ruling from the attorney general saying it’s constitutional,” said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
A coalition of animal rights, civil liberties, food safety and other groups filed a federal lawsuit March 17 that seeks to overturn Idaho’s Ag Security Act, which was signed into law Feb. 28 by Gov. Butch Otter.
The legislation makes it a crime for someone to gain employment in an Idaho agricultural operation through deception with the intent to cause economic harm and other damage to the operation.
It would also prohibit people from making an audio or video recording of the facility’s operations without the owner’s consent.
Anyone found guilty of violating the law could be sentenced to up to one year in prison and fined up to $5,000.
A lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Western Watersheds Project, Farm Sanctuary and several other groups and individuals.
The defendants are Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Naerebout said IDA will file for intervenor status in the case.
A Feb. 5 letter from the attorney general’s office to supporters of the bill stated that it would likely pass legal muster.
“Because the draft statute regulates conduct and does so without burdening an established speech-related right, it is likely that any First Amendment challenge would fail,” stated the letter, signed by Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane.
ACLU of Idaho Communications Director Leo Morales said the bill is written too broadly and violates free speech rights.
He said the state has chosen to “protect the speech of the agricultural industry at the expense of those who are critiquing it.”
Morales said Idaho’s agricultural “industry is trying to shield themselves from critique and they’re doing that at the expense of the First Amendment.”
According to the 52-page complaint, the law has “both the purpose and effect of impairing the public debate about animal welfare, food safety, environmental and labor issues that arise on public and private land.”
The complaint also alleges the law gags “speech that is critical of industrial agriculture, including speech that advances significant public interests in protecting Idahoans’ safety.”
Naerebout said the law is about protecting private property rights, not stifling speech.
During public hearings on the bill, leaders of multiple Idaho farm commodities spoke in support of the bill and the protection it offered their industries.
The bill “includes protection for all of agriculture and would add a much-needed layer of protection in statute for our seed producers,” said Roger Batt of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association.