Not happy with House changes to the so-called Ag Gag bill, a state senator asked conference committee members April 22 to accept language that would make taking photos and videos of agricultural, industrial or mining operations without the owner’s permission a crime.
Comments from legislators assigned to the S.B. 373 committee indicate the request by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, could meet resistance.
Holdman’s committee report would resuscitate language removed by the House that would make criminalize the taking of photos or videos with the intent to harm the business relationship of the farm, factory or mine with its customers and without the owner’s permission.
Trying to address media concerns, Holdman’s change would allow news organizations to disseminate photos or video received from someone else without violating the law, but a journalist who took the photos or video would be subject to a Class A misdemeanor.
He also dropped criminal defamation from the Senate version of the bill.
Trying to address labor concerns with the House version of S.B. 373, Holdman intends to drop wording about gaining employment through false information.
HSPA would oppose the reintroduction of language making photography or videography a crime.
When one conference committee member, state Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, raised the question about First Amendment infringement, Holdman said the media exception should suffice to make it constitutional.
When committee advisor state Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, started to point out the multiple civil remedies available, Holdman cut him off and declared there is no “criminal” remedy.
When asked about whistleblower protection for an employee sharing video of illegal activity, Holdman said the report extended the grace period to turn photos or videos over to police or regulatory agencies from 48 hours to five days.
State Sen. Stoops and advisor state Rep. Jud McMillan, R-Brookville, both questioned the standard of “intent to harm” language in Holdman’s change.
If a photo is unflattering, for example, then knowledge of harm is a given and there’s not much of a hurdle for determining whether it is a crime, they said.
Stoops pointed out that a whistleblower who doesn’t act within five days before taking the video of illegal activity to the police could face arrest, but Holdman said prosecutors and police have discretion on filing charges.
None of the conversation covered the policy ramifications of criminalizing the sharing of videos or photos of legal operations that someone wanted to share to spark public discussion over whether that operation should be regulated or stopped by the state legislature.
There is no whistleblower protection if the operation is legal.
Other than Holdman, none of the state senators or representatives at the April 22 conference committee hearing spoke positively about the proposal.
Key said the reaction of the House Republican caucus to Holdman’s report would determine the outcome.
If they sign off, dissenting Democrats can be replaced by Republican leadership in both chambers with Republicans willing to sign the conference committee report.
But Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, took the unusual action of reassigning S.B. 373 to another committee – House Judiciary – for further amendment after the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee amended it.
House Judiciary members McMillan and state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon worked on the bill and crafted the final amendment that allowed HSPA to remove its opposition to the House version of the bill.