Let's flush the First Amendment down the toilet for large corporations??
Of course if they can flush the First Amendment down the toilet for large corporations, they can also flush the First Amendment down the toilet for the rest of us.
Livestock cruelty bill stirs big fight
By Alia Beard Rau The Republic | azcentral.com Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:45 PM
Legislation to overhaul state livestock-abuse laws has united an unusual group of opponents, pitting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona Humane Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and free-speech advocates against the state’s farmers and cattle ranchers.
At issue is House Bill 2587, which separates the crime of livestock cruelty from other types of animal cruelty and eliminates the option of felony charges.
Proponents say the bill would increase protections against animal cruelty, but detractors say it is designed to derail the kind of undercover video operations that have documented extreme cases of cruelty in so-called factory farming operations around the country in recent years.
Under the bill, only the Arizona Department of Agriculture would be allowed to investigate livestock-cruelty allegations, instead of local law enforcement. Counties or municipalities would also be prohibited from passing more restrictive ordinances than the state regulations.
The bill also would require any person with a video, photo or other evidence of animal cruelty to turn the evidence over to the department within five business days or face penalties, which critics say would make it more difficult for whistle-blowers to gather evidence against the worst offenders.
The Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association is pushing the bill. The Arizona Farm Bureau Federation supports it as well.
“Arizona’s ranchers and farmers ... support a cruelty section to assure that livestock abuse does not occur in Arizona,” said Patrick Bray, vice president of the cattle growers group, in an e-mail.
Bray said the state Department of Agriculture has 10 certified enforcement officers who conduct abuse investigations statewide. He acknowledged this likely wouldn’t be enough to handle all cases if the bill becomes law, but said the department could still work with other government agencies to ensure cases are investigated.
“We just want to make sure the Department of Agriculture can lead investigations,” he said.
Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, thebill’s primary sponsor, has scheduled a public hearing on the legislation during today’s House Agriculture and Water Committee, which she chairs.
Barton in an e-mail said her bill “seeks to protect agricultural livestock from extended neglect and abuse.
“What could be more protective of an animal’s welfare, to report it within five days of witnessing the abuse or neglect?” she asked. “Our goal is to get aid to those animals as quickly as possible.”
Arpaio takes issue with a portion of the bill that takes enforcement powers away from local agencies. He has made fighting animal cruelty a priority with a special unit of investigators to handle such cases.
“I’m a big animal-cruelty fighter,” Arpaio said. “And I should have the authority to investigate. Why would they take that away from law enforcement?”
First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said the reporting requirement could actually deter people from documenting abuse.
“So, someone takes a photo on their camera phone and posts it online and says, ‘Isn’t this awful?’ and they fail to send a photo in to the state of Arizona, they can be prosecuted for a Class 1 misdemeanor,” he said. “That’s absurd. Don’t you want people to record this and publicize it?”
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said the bill would make it impossible for journalists and whistle-blowers to document persistent animal mistreatment and safety issues.
“By restricting possession of videos or photographs, bills like this one unconstitutionally chill the free speech of people — including journalists — who are trying to bring animal cruelty to light,” she said. “Instead of criminalizing people who are exercising their constitutional right to document and expose animal abuse, legislators should direct their energy toward achieving accountability of the abusers.”
The Arizona Humane Society issued a statement to its members opposing the bill.
“It is designed to make Arizona a safe haven for massive, industrial, internationally owned corporate livestock factories that may destroy our long, rich tradition of responsible and sustainable farming,” the statement said.
Bill opponents allege it is legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative-leaning organization that connects state lawmakers and corporations. The two groups work together to develop bills that lawmakers can introduce in their own state.
Barton is a member of ALEC.
ALEC has model legislation that was written more than a decade ago called the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. The act appears to focus on restricting animal-rights activists from accessing agricultural and research facilities. Among other things, it proposes to ban such “terrorists” from entering a facility to take photos or videos with the intent of committing criminal activities or defaming the facility or its owner.
Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation regulating photos or video of possible livestock abuse, which have become known as “ag-gag” bills.
Kansas, Montana and North Dakota in the 1990s passed laws that prohibit individuals from taking photos or video of agricultural operations without permission. Utah passed a similar law in 2012.
Missouri in 2012 required employee whistle-blowers to hand over evidence of suspected abuse to the state within 24 hours. Several states attempted similar “quick-reporting” bills last year, but none passed. The Arizona, Indiana and New Hampshire legislatures are considering such bills this session.
“It’s the latest fad,” Barr said.
Arizona Humane Society Field Operations Manager Chris West, a former police officer who has worked for other non-profits investigating animal-cruelty allegations, said the five-day rule would make it nearly impossible for whistle-blower employees or animal-rights groups to accumulate evidence against someone committing repeated animal abuse.
“And then if you can’t get evidence in that time, what happens on the sixth day? You’re in violation of the law, and the evidence would be inadmissible in court,” he said. “Plus, it removes the anonymity of individuals who want to report abuse.”
He is also critical of removing the felony option for livestock abusers.
“So, the way this reads, you overwork a horse and it dies, that is a felony currently,” he said. “But it would now become a Class 1 misdemeanor, which normally gets 18 to 36 months’ probation and maybe a fine and you’re off the hook.”
Arizona’s bill may face an uphill climb to becoming law. In an e-mail sent to several members of her committee and obtained by The Arizona Republic, Barton warned that today’s meeting would likely be “contentious with the uninformed animal rights folks.”
She said the committee’s three Democratic members would likely vote against the bill and asked the other five Republican members to let her know in advance how they might vote.
It is not uncommon for committee chairs to pull a bill off an agenda if they discover that it will not pass.
The sponsor can then rework the bill to make it more appealing to opponents, or ask the House speaker to assign it to a friendlier committee.
Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, a rancher, has signed on in support of HB 2587.
“I have no problem with the bill,” he said. “People read things into bills and it scares them. Everybody needs to chill out a little bit.”
He said livestock cruelty isn’t a problem commonly seen in Arizona, particularly among the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Arizona farmers currently have about 900,000 head of cattle and about 150,000 market hogs and pigs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data, ranking the state 30th in the nation for cattle and 23rd for pigs and hogs. The state has about 140,000 sheep and 55,000 goats.
Pierce also said the law-enforcement officers who currently work under the state Department of Agriculture already conduct some investigations and have an expertise in agriculture.
“They wear badges. They are law enforcement,” he said.
Barton’s bill does have one portion that is finding some support outside the farming industry.
The bill would make changes to the existing statute dealing with general animal cruelty, including against cats and dogs.
Most notably, it would create a new crime of animal hoarding.
A first offense would be a misdemeanor, and a second offense could be charged as a felony.