Study group begins ag gag discussion

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Ag gag will rear its ugly head again when the Interim Study Committee on Economic Development meets Sept. 25.

The Indiana General Assembly committee will tackle the topic: “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.”

Testimony before the interim committee should be a replay of the 2013 General Assembly committee hearings on S.B. 373, authored by State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and sponsored by State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy.

That bill died on the final night of the legislature when Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, pulled the bill from its conference committee floor debate.

Several versions of S.B. 373 had passed initially in the Indiana Senate and House, prompting a conference committee report to iron out a final version.

Supporters argue in favor of a so-called ag-gag law to protect agricultural operations, along with manufacturers and mining operations, from videos posted online that they say unfairly portrays their operations.

Opponents have voiced concern that the law would:

• Obstruct First Amendment constitutionality

• Create criminal libel in Indiana

• Hinder the ability of whistleblowers to show illegal practices

• Thwart the ability of parties to bring legal activities under scrutiny and possible legislative consideration.

Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, plans to testify at the hearing in the Statehouse.

HSPA opposed the version of S.B. 373 that passed the Senate. The association did not oppose the House version, which only impacted the law on trespass and gaining employment under false pretenses.

“We don’t recommend journalists violate an existing law to gain a story,” Key said. “If someone intends to trespass or gain employment unlawfully, they need to be prepared to pay the legal price for that action.”

The Senate version of the bill raised the specter of criminal defamation and First Amendment prior restraint, Key said.

The conference committee report would have made the sharing of a photo or video of cockroaches crawling in a restaurant a criminal trespass violation.

The legislators on the interim committee are co-chairmen State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, and State Rep. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; and State Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, and State Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis.

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