By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- Proponents of a bill that would regulate how undercover animal-abuse photos and video footage in California would be handled say the legislation has been put on hold.
The California Cattlemen's Association-sponsored Assembly Bill 343 was slated to be discussed by the lower chamber's agriculture committee on April 17 but was pulled from the agenda.
The bill by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, would give people who "knowingly or willingly" take photographs or video of abuse 120 hours to provide copies to the local police or sheriff's department.
But the bill's backers couldn't overcome opposition from the Humane Society of the United States and its allies even after making concessions, including carving out an exemption for news organizations.
"The bill itself was California cattlemen working to be proactive about animal welfare and the fact that we care about our animals," said Justin Oldfield, the CCA's vice president of government relations. "So we spent a lot of time working with the Assembly ag committee to try to make this bill a better bill and work collaboratively with them to address our concerns.
"I think they ultimately saw that we did have legitimate concerns and they wanted to work with us ... but this bill was premature in moving forward right now," he said. However, "we're going to keep moving forward on these issues."
The bill originally would have given people who take photos or video footage of animal abuse 48 hours to provide copies to the local police or sheriff's department. However, the HSUS contended it was merely an effort to discourage people from gathering evidence of animal abuse.
News organizations also complained the bill could hamper investigative reporting on the goings-on at livestock facilities, prompting the bill's backers to insert language applying California's current shield law to the legislation.
The bill comes after a spate of undercover videos taken by representatives of animal welfare organizations have given a series of black eyes to livestock industries. Last year, for instance, videos depicting abuse at dairies in Central California and southern Idaho had industry officials scrambling to convince consumers that the incidents were isolated.
A landmark $500 million agreement was reached in November to settle a slaughterhouse abuse case that led to the biggest meat recall in U.S. history in 2008. The civil settlement with the owners of Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. came after a widely circulated video shot by an undercover operative showed "downer cows" -- those too weak or sick to walk -- being dragged by chains, rammed by forklifts and sprayed with high-pressure water to coax them to slaughter.
Responding to situations where activists lied about their identities or intentions to gain access to facilities, some states have considered making it a crime to surreptitiously get into a farming operation to record video of animal abuse.
Oldfield has said the CCA wouldn't support such a measure in the Golden State.
"The fact is this bill almost became something in the media that it wasn't" in reality, Oldfield said.
California Cattlemen's Association: http://www.calcattlemen.org/