Business videotaping ban clears Indiana House panel

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Taking videos and photos at farms and factories without permission would become illegal under a proposal endorsed Thursday by an Indiana House committee despite objections from critics who say it would punish whistleblowers and criminalize the exposure of the truth.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail to take a photograph or video of a farm or industrial operation without the written consent of the property's owner unless the material is turned over to law enforcement or a regulatory agency within 48 hours.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy said the measure is aimed at stopping overzealous activists from defaming farms and businesses with misleading videos.

The House agriculture committee voted 9-3 Thursday to advance the bill to the full House. The Senate approved a version of the bill last month.

Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, said she opposes the bill because of concerns that it would prevent exposure of puppy mills or neglected horses, The Indianapolis Star reported.

While the prohibition on videotaping at farms has received much of the attention from opponents, Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said the bill would "absolutely" have a chilling effect on employees trying to expose dangerous conditions

Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said the bill has First Amendment issues, with what he called an unconstitutional prior restraint on people gathering news and information.

Key said those concerns weren't lessened by the provisions of no crime being committed if the information is given to authorities.

"Sometimes the problem is with the agencies that are supposed to be regulating," he said.

Other states, including Iowa and Utah, already have laws banning photography and videotaping on farmland.

"There is no constitutional right to gather news on private property," Bob Kraft, a lobbyist for Indiana Farm Bureau, told the committee last week.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he wasn't sure the bill was acceptable yet and that a constitutional lawyer was reviewing it for any First Amendment conflicts.

"We're analyzing it, but I haven't looked at the result of the committee yet, personally," Bosma said. "But we will, and we'll see if the bill needs further work."

The proposal has drawn some national attention, with longtime Republican strategist Mary Matalin recording a video for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals saying that it would wrongly punish whistleblowers reporting animal cruelty. Bassist Tony Kanal of the band No Doubt and former "The Price is Right" host Bob Barker have written letters to Bosma opposing the bill.

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