BOISE — Supporters and opponents of Idaho’s so-called “ag gag” law both claimed victory following a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the law.
Supporters of the Idaho Agricultural Security Act, which is called the “ag gag” law by opponents, say last week’s appeals court ruling on the statute largely vindicates the purpose of the law.
Although the court ruled the law’s ban on secret video or audio recordings is unconstitutional, it upheld most of the remaining provisions in the statute that protect agricultural production facilities, supporters say.
“Almost all of the law got upheld,” said Gayle Batt, a former state representative who sponsored the bill in the Idaho House of Representatives. “The meat of the bill survived.”
The bill was crafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association after video footage of dairy cows being abused was released by an undercover animal activist group. IDA officials said the footage was used to attempt to unfairly damage the dairy’s business.
The prosecuting attorney in the county where the footage was obtained told Capital Press there was no evidence the dairy’s owner or management had any involvement in or knowledge of the abuse.
After the Idaho Legislature passed the law in 2014 by a combined vote of 79-24, it was challenged in court by Animal Legal Defense Fund and a coalition of animal rights and public interest groups.
Those groups also claimed victory following the court’s Jan. 4 ruling.
The court’s finding that the law’s restriction on secret recordings is unconstitutional was a huge victory, said ALDF Senior Attorney Matthew Liebman.
“I think the whole point behind this law was to stop recordings coming out and now that that recording ban is unconstitutional, that’s a major victory as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
IDA Attorney Dan Steenson pointed out the title of the statute is “Interference with agricultural production.”
While the court ruled the law’s recording provision is unconstitutional, it upheld a provision making it a crime to obtain records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.
As the court realized, “someone stealing your records by lying to you ... can be devastating to a business,” Steenson said.
The court also upheld a provision that makes it a crime to obtain employment with an ag production facility through misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility’s operations, business interests or customers.
The law requires those charged with a crime to pay restitution to the victim in an amount equal to twice the damages and they would also face one year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Everyone wants to focus on the recording provision, but that’s not the only protection the law affords agricultural producers, Steenson said.
“We believe the statute still provides significant protection for agricultural production facilities from wrongful interference,” he said. Each of the provisions “address different types of interference that agricultural facilities might experience.”
In a news release, ALDF said the court upheld those other provisions in the law “only after construing them narrowly.”