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Bill would make it a crime to photograph a farm

Published February 24, 2012 4:51 pm

Criminal law • Supporters say it is needed to protect against animal-rights activists.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Videotaping or photographing farm operations without permission would be a crime under a bill approved Friday by the Utah House.

Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, a veterinarian, said his HB187 is intended to stop groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals from taking what he says are distorted videos alleging animal abuse. Critics say the bill goes too far and could stop legitimate whistle-blowing.

The House endorsed the bill on a 60-14 vote, and sent it to the Senate.

"I don't think they should have that right" to record farm operations if they "have been asked not to, or are not invited, or are trespassing criminally," Mathis said.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, a rancher, added, "This is about a group of people who want to put us out of business" by taking videos they purport show animal abuse. He said ranchers care about their animals, and they "certainly don't want some jackwagon to come in and take a picture of them."

But House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said it would stop legitimate whistle-blowing. "If an employee witnesses abuse, videos that abuse, and brings that to law enforcement, they have committed a crime" under the bill, he said.

"This bill simply goes too far," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. He unsuccessfully tried to amend it so that it would still allow people who are on property legally to take videos.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said the language in the bill is so broad it technically could make criminals out of schoolchildren taking pictures of farms without permission — although she said she knows that is not the intent and doubts any would be prosecuted. But she said that shows the bill needs more work.