Norman's 'ag-gag'EditorialBy TBO.COM | Tbo.com
TBO – January 23, 2012
State Sen. Jim Norman doesn’t learn. A year after failing to make felons out of people who take video or still photos of farms without owners’ permission, the Tampa Republican once again is seeking to make criminals out of farm visitors with cameras.
This folly isn’t even worth lawmakers’ time. Yet the Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to take it up today as part of Norman’s “general” agricultural bill.
The “ag-gag” provision, as it’s been dubbed by animal welfare advocates and others, of the six-part bill stands out like a rotten onion: “A person may not knowingly enter upon any nonpublic area of a farm and, without the prior written consent of the farm’s owner or the owner’s authorized representative, operate the audio or video recording function of any device with the intent of recording sound or images of the farm or farm operation.”
Violators would be guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor that could result in a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. There are exemptions for law enforcement officers, certain state agents and “any other government employee conducting official regulatory business,” among others. The House sponsor is Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula.
The bill isn’t as bad as Norman’s first try, which was ridiculed nationally. It would have even criminalized taking pictures of pastoral scenes from the side of the road before being amended and dying. But his latest attempt is still bad because it’s heavy-handed and not needed. Florida already has laws against trespassing, recording private conversations and “theft of intellectual property,” as well as remedies against slander. Farmers can utilize these and other means to protect themselves.
Norman has said he drafted the bill at the request of Wilton Simpson, a prominent Dade City area egg farmer and businessman. Interestingly enough, Simpson is running for the state Senate this year, so voters should question his motives behind the bill as well. What is he afraid of?
Granted, some animal rights’ activists and whistleblowers are overzealous. But over the years they have exposed pollution, threats to food safety, animal abuse and other wrongs that have prompted reforms. For instance, Florida’s current statutes regarding “humane slaughter” and livestock euthanasia stemmed from undercover video “documenting horrific cruelty” at a farm in Okeechobee in 1999, according to The Humane Society of the United States.
A law against taking pictures of farm operations? Norman needs to put that absurd thought out to pasture and move on to important matters.