Environment Economic Development Committee discusses whistleblower bill

Economic Development Committee discusses whistleblower bill

On Wednesday, the Interim Study Committee on Economic Development discussed the possibility of resurrecting a controversial piece of legislation that failed in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session. Senate Bill (SB) 373, also known as the “ag-gag” or “anti-whistleblower” bill, would have made it unlawful to take photos or videos of agricultural or industrial operations without the consent of the owner. It failed in the conference committee process because a compromise could not be reached on essential sections of the bill as the 2013 session came to a close.

Supporters of the legislation included a coalition of the Indiana Pork Association, the Indiana Beef Cattle Association and the Indiana Poultry Association, as well as the Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Manufacturers Association. These groups testified there needs to be an expansion of the trespassing law to include language that specifies trespassing with the intent to hurt or defame the property owner. Proponents would also like to see stricter penalties on those that lie on an employment application in order to gain access to private property and take photos or video.

Opponents of the legislation cited First Amendment rights, the merits of whistleblowers’ intentions in exposing wrongdoing in the past, as well as the fact that there are already sufficient trespassing, libel, defamation and application fraud laws in Indiana Code. They stated there is no need to make these penalties harsher. Opponents believe this bill would hinder economic development in the state rather than advance it.

Representatives from the Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana Broadcast Association, ASPCA, Indiana State AFL-CIO, Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Humane Society, and the Citizens Action Coalition all came to testify in opposition of the bill.

The committee will make a recommendation to the legislature on this legislation once it holds its final hearing and submits its final report.