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An overview of “ag-gag” laws

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  1. Prior Restraint
AP Photo by Orlin Wagner Lester Reimer harvests wheat on his farm near Lebo, Kan. Since 1990, some state legislatures…

Since 1990, some state legislatures have passed laws restricting hidden-camera reporting in agricultural facilities. But the “ag-gag” movement has gathered momentum in recent years, as bills have appeared across the country.

1990: Kansas passes the Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, becoming America’s first ag-gag state. The law criminalizes trespassing on a livestock facility to take pictures or video “with the intent to damage the enterprise.”

1991: Montana and North Dakota pass ag-gag laws similar — but not identical — to the law in Kansas. Montana bans recording only for those who have “the intent to commit criminal defamation.” North Dakota goes with a broader prohibition: “No person without the effective consent of the owner may . . . [e]nter an animal facility and use or attempt to use a camera, video recorder, or any other video or audio recording equipment.”

2010: State legislators in Washington fail to pass an ag-gag bill based on the model legislation circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The bill would have branded some activist groups “animal rights or ecological terrorist organizations” and prohibited these groups from entering farms to take pictures or video “with the intent to commit criminal activities.”

2011: Ag-gag bills are introduced in five states (counting South Carolina, whose bill does not explicitly mention photography or videography), but none pass before the end of the year. In April, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman coins the term “ag-gag.”

2012: Iowa, Missouri, South Carolina and Utah enact laws affecting undercover investigators’ ability to document agricultural practices. Iowa makes it a crime to get hired at a livestock facility under false pretenses. Missouri requires videos of suspected animal cruelty to be turned over to the authorities within 24 hours of filming. South Carolina bans trespassing on an animal facility with intent to harm the business. Utah criminalizes recording an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent and gaining agricultural employment under false pretenses.

Meanwhile, an ag-gag proposal is tabled in Illinois.

2013: Ag-gag bills fail in California, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wyoming, Indiana, Vermont, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and, most significantly, Tennessee, where the governor vetoes the bill as “constitutionally suspect.”

In February, Utah arrests Amy Meyer for allegedly violating its ag-gag statute, making her the first person ever charged with such a crime. The prosecutor drops the charge after the case receives widespread publicity.

In July, a coalition of plaintiffs including Meyer sues to invalidate Utah’s ag-gag law, claiming that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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