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"Ag-Gag" Bill Gets First WA Hearing

PHOTO: A so-called ag-gag law that's being challenged in Idaho and Utah has been introduced as legislation in Washington. It prohibits people from audio or video taping in agricultural production facilities without the owner's written permission.  Photo credit: derausdo/FeaturePics.com
PHOTO: A so-called ag-gag law that's being challenged in Idaho and Utah has been introduced as legislation in Washington. It prohibits people from audio or video taping in agricultural production facilities without the owner's written permission. Photo credit: derausdo/FeaturePics.com
January 19, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – There's keen interest among farm workers groups and animal rights advocates in Washington in a so-called ag-gag bill introduced in the Legislature.

House Bill 1104 gets its first hearing Tuesday at 8 a.m. in the House Public Safety Committee.

It is almost identical to legislation passed last year in Idaho to penalize anyone who makes audio or video recordings of the assets or conduct in an agricultural production facility without the owner's written permission.

Matthew Liebman is a senior attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of a dozen groups that have banded together to sue the State of Idaho for enacting the law.

"The Idaho bill was passed and signed into law at the end of February, and we had our complaint filed within three weeks,” he relates. “So, I would expect if Washington passes an identical bill, they can expect the same sort of lawsuit within a matter of weeks."

Supporters of ag-gag laws in several states say it's a necessary step to deter trespassing and other tactics used by some animal rights groups.

Opponents say these laws violate First Amendment free speech rights of those who document health, worker safety or animal cruelty issues.

Both the Washington bill and the Idaho law include penalties for whistle-blowers of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, with an extra penalty of up to twice the amount of a facility's loss if the person causes economic or physical injury.

Liebman says the intent of investigations isn't to destroy businesses, but to ensure they're operating legally and humanely.

"Perhaps even more significantly is what they reveal about the inhumane treatment of animals, not only by individual workers, but also more systemically – exposing problems that are pervasive within the industry," he states.

Court challenges to ag-gag laws are under way in Idaho and Utah.

Idaho had asked that the lawsuit there be dismissed, but a judge denied that motion. The next court date is Feb. 17.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA