Live male chicks are flung into a grinder at an Iowa egg facility.

Live male chicks are flung into a grinder at an Iowa egg facility. (March 28, 2013)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — 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.

A similar bill was passed in Iowa and other states after several companies were put through public relations disasters from undercover video taken at their facilities.

The country was outraged, for example, when undercover video taken at an Iowa egg hatchery showed hundreds of live male chicks being fed into grinders -- a daily practice in the industry because male chicks are unneeded for egg production -- or scalded by boiling water from a wash cycle and left to die on the factory floor.

The video can be watched here, but we warn you that it is very graphic and disturbing.

"Public relations disasaters"

A spokesman for Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms — one of the nation's largest egg producers — described a potential public-relations headache the company faced in 2010 involving undercover video.

Rose Acre's general counsel, Joe Miller, said the Humane Society of the United States posted a video on its website that shocked customers. That video, released at an Iowa news conference, was taken by someone who had gotten a job at two Iowa farms, one owned by Rose Acre and the second by another company.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO -- again, with a warning about upsetting content.

Miller told members of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law that soon after the video was made public, 50 customers called to say "they wanted to stop buying our eggs."

"That would have devastated our business," he said.

Arguments against

The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/WYLRCz ) Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, said she opposes the bill because of concerns that it would prevent exposure of misconduct such as puppy mills where dogs are kept in bad conditions or neglected horses.

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.

"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 operative 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.

 

LINK: Indiana General Assembly website and contact information