Groups meet to oppose ag gag

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The Hoosier State Press Association will be participating this summer in meetings of a coalition opposed to “ag-gag” legislation.

The group’s first meeting will be June 25.

Lawmakers in several states including Indiana introduced so-called ag-gag legislation this year with the intent to halt the posting of photos or videos that portray agricultural and industrial operations in a bad light.

State lawmakers brought three such bills before the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

One of them, S.B. 373, died on the final night of the legislative session following multiple changes to its language as it moved through the process.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, authored the bill. State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, served as its House sponsor.

State Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, and state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, authored the other two ag-gag bills, but only S.B. 373 moved forward in the legislature.

So far only Tennessee has passed an ag-gag bill this year. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed it on May 13.

Despite the Indiana bill’s defeat in 2013, the topic will resurface this summer in an interim study committee.

The state Legislative Council assigned an interim study committee to address the topic of “trespassing for the purpose of harming a business and making video images of a business with the intent to falsely portray the operations of a business.” The Senate president pro-tem and the speaker of the House alternate as chairs of the council.

HSPA opposed most versions of S.B. 373 because they either violated the First Amendment or created a criminal defamation action in Indiana.

Throughout the process, HSPA argued that existing remedies already exist to protect businesses from false portrayals, trespass or employment gained by false pretenses.

But Holdman felt the House version was too weak and filed a dissent. The conference committee version he put together became, in HSPA’s view, an “all-gag” bill. The bill said any act taken on someone’s property with the intent to harm the owner could be considered criminal trespass.

Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition asked for the June 25 planning meeting.

Other groups besides HSPA that were invited include the Indiana Broadcasters Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of Indiana, Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana State AFL-CIO (labor organization), Indiana Coalition for Open Government, Sierra Club, Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, and Indiana Public Health Organization. Other possible allies would include the Motion Picture Association of America and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association.

The entities that supported S.B. 373 included the Farm Bureau, Indiana Manufacturers Association, Indiana Chamber of Com­merce, and organizations representing producers of pork, beef and poultry.

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