House committee approves harsher penalties for people who take hidden camera video on Indiana farms

Repeat violators could face up to year in jail

INDIANAPOLIS - The bill to prohibit the use of hidden cameras to expose wrong-doing on Hoosier farms and factories could now send violators to jail for up to a year after updates made Thursday.

Lawmakers voted to make the penalties even tougher, but the measure is also getting more high-level scrutiny as Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma said they're going to look at the bill closely.

Farmer William Friend, the Republican sponsor of the bill in the House, said the measure is meant to protect property rights and bio-security and to prevent industrial espionage of trade secrets.

"In most modern livestock facilities, just random individuals going through the building and for whatever purpose is prohibited and discouraged, simply because of the spread of disease and that sort of thing," Friend said.

Friend said he wants to stop overzealous advocates from defaming farmers with misleading video, but opponents said the bill would prevent the public from learning about dangerous situations that threaten health and safety, things that are illegal and things that would be illegal if people only knew about them.

Opponents said hidden cameras are often the only way to gather such information for the public.

"The things that you're trying to chill, more often than not, are going to be things that deal with environmental hazards or crimes, food supply problems, worker safety, migrant farm workers' safety or living conditions," said Stephen Key of the Hoosier State Press Association.

Opponents said it could even prevent exposure of things like puppy mills.

The House Agriculture Committee voted to increase the penalty for a repeat offense to up to one year in prison. 

Taking such pictures would not be a crime if they were turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, but opponents said lax law enforcement is often the reason people turn to hidden cameras in the first place.

Pence said he'll take a hard look at the bill.

"I'm very committed to making sure that we protect the private property rights of farmers, particularly those in livestock in this state. But also I understand that we need to make sure that we're also protecting the First Amendment rights and the public's right to know," Pence said. "If that legislation makes it to our desk, that's how we'll evaluate it."

Before approving the bill, the committee approved a change designed to improve its chances of being constitutional. 

It would emphasize the taking of the pictures as the crime, not the dissemination of them. 

Bosma said he isn't sure the bill has been fixed yet and wants to take a harder look at it.

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