A still from one of the undercover videos of cows being abused—physically and sexually—that prompted Idahos ag gag law.
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  • A still from one of the undercover videos of cows being abused—physically and sexually—that prompted Idaho's ag gag law.

The ag gag bill I wrote about earlier this week had a hearing on Tuesday and looks like it's stalled in committee. Al Jazeera pointed out this lovely tidbit:

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But perhaps the real sign of defeat was when one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Republican floor leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, pulled his name from the proposal. His family owns Wilcox Family farms, which was cited for serious safety violations in 2013 and saw a worker crushed to death under 500 tons of corn when a silo collapsed.

Whoops. Not the best ambassador for a law designed to obscure conditions on ranches and farms.

If you're wondering why we should oppose ag gag bills, and think that the USDA is doing just fine in monitoring the country's food supply—despite, by its own admission, a chronic lack of inspectors—please gird your loins and read this harrowing article in the New York Times about a USDA-run research facility. The article should come with its own trigger warning. (The mental image of what they subjected a young cow to during a "libido study" involving six bulls is going to linger—suffice to say, the cow died a few hours later.) They're using surgery and breeding to try and engineer meat that will minimize human labor (less labor equals more profit) and the experiments they perform are truly hair-raising—even to a heartless killer like me.

As one scientist and veterinarian (now whistleblower) who worked at the center for 24 years and is finally coming forward put it: "Most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard pressed to support some of the things that the center has done."

And that's not a farm that's dodging USDA inspection—it's a facility run by the USDA. Not to mention all the food-safety issues that have gone right over the USDA's head but been identified by undercover investigators and whistleblowers.

Back to the bill: You can read all about it and its problems in this post and this one.

But the super-short version: It was introduced by Republicans (and endorsed by a Democrat who later admitted to me that "you could say I should've done my research"); appears to be a model bill from the Koch-funded "corporate bill mill" known as ALEC; would criminalize any photo/video documentation of farms, ranches, slaughterhouses, mines, and other such businesses without written consent of the landowner (similar bills in other states have resulted in people being arrested and charged for taking photos from public roads); would also criminalize laborers documenting their own working conditions; and, the cherry on top, could potentially criminalize strikes, boycotts, and even writing something negative about such businesses from the other side of the state.

I don't think that's what sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) had in mind, but there it is in section 1(e):

A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly causes economic or physical injury to the agricultural production facility's operations, real or personal property, personnel, or goodwill, including livestock, crops, owners, employees, equipment, personnel, buildings, premises, business interests, or customers.

Not to get too IWW about it, but the ability to knowingly cause economic injury to a company's business interests is one of the most valuable tools we have to get shit done in America.

Tuesday's testimony before the public safety committee (archived here and embedded below) was actually a beautiful thing to watch. It began with Republicans calling the bill a "no-brainer" before being demolished by testimony from experts, attorneys, and everyday citizens who all opposed it.

Some highlights:

* Rep. Schmick said there were no farmers or ranchers there to testify in support of the bill because they're all "scared." (He didn't mentioned that some of our state's farmers and ranchers are actually opposing the bill, arguing that good businesses don't need ag gag laws and bad businesses don't deserve them.)

* In one great moment, Matt Dominguez of the Humane Society quickly and articulately traced the bill's immediate parentage to Idaho, where undercover videographers documented workers abusing cows—physically and sexually—and the state reacted not by reforming the industry, but by passing an ag gag bill to make such documentation illegal.

Which made supporting the ag gag bill sound uncomfortably close to endorsing the molestation of cows. (Some of Idaho's pro-ag gag politicians claim the video was staged, but it resulted in employees of Bettencourt Dairies being fired and jailed.)

* Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick), doing his best Giuliani impersonation, kept banging this specious rhetorical drum: If you ran a business from your home and I didn't like it, would you want me sneaking onto your property with a video recorder to make you look bad? (Really, Rep. Klippert? The safety of the nation's food supply should be as opaque and private as what I do in my own kitchen?)

Sandy Smith, who said she'd never testified in Olympia before, shut him down by saying he'd framed the question disingenuously and that if she had an employee (say, a housekeeper) who saw her committing a crime (say, beating her child or slitting her dog's throat) that employee should not only have the ability but a duty to document and report that. "If I were the person going to prison, I'd probably agree with you," she told Rep. Klippert. "But I disagree with you."

Rep. Klippert gave up on that line of argument for the rest of the hearing.

By the end, Rep. Dan Griffey—the Republican who'd begun the hearing by calling the bill a "no-brainer"—wondered aloud whether the bill might have some problems.

"Is there a way to fix the bill to put whistleblower protections in here?" he asked.

Good job, citizens.