By: BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press
The Kentucky Senate voted Friday to punish animal-rights activists with jail and fines for secretly filming farm operations, attaching the proposal to legislation meant to prevent animal shelters from using gas chambers as a form of euthanasia.
But that's as far as the bill may go. The Senate's action drew a defiant response from the sponsor of the original House-passed bill.
Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins said she would not ask the House to take up the broader bill in the final days of the General Assembly session, which would kill the measure. She said the punishment proposed in the Senate version was misdirected.
"If a big factory farm is doing something that impacts the environment and public health, we shouldn't be penalizing whistleblowers in those instances," Jenkins said.
The provision to criminalize undercover filming or photographing of private farm animal operations was added by the Senate Agriculture Committee this week. The full Senate accepted the changes before passing the amended version on a 32-6 vote, sending it back to the House.
The amended measure would make it a misdemeanor for someone to gain access to a private farm under false pretenses and then film or photograph the operations without the landowner's consent. Violators could face up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.
Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he was disappointed that Jenkins didn't plan to have the bill brought up in the House.
Hornback said he sees the provision as an attempt to protect private property rights.
"When somebody comes in and misrepresents themselves on a farm just to try to take action against that farm, I think that's wrong," he said.
The provision was supported by Kentucky Farm Bureau but opposed by the Humane Society of the United States.
Humane Society officials said the so-called "ag-gag" language surfaced about a month after an undercover investigation revealed animal cruelty at a western Kentucky pig farm. They said video and photographs showed large pigs confined in cages so small that they couldn't turn around, and showed sows being fed the remains of diseased piglets.
In recent years, animal rights groups have released undercover video elsewhere around the country exposing instances of animal abuse at slaughterhouses and farms.
Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society's vice president of farm-animal protection, said Friday the Senate's provision was meant to "block transparency" of the meat industry.
"The good news is that the meat industry will not prevent Americans from finding out about what happens to animals on factory farms," he said of Jenkins' refusal to bring the bill up again. "The bad news is that pets can still be put down in gas chambers in Kentucky."
Meanwhile, Hornback didn't rule out trying to attach the provision to another bill in the final days of the legislative session.
"If the opportunity arises, I would certainly do that," he said.