Animal rights and environmental activists are not happy about a state House proposal that would make it a felony to record or take pictures of an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent.
Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska of Cambria County says family farmers in his district suggested he introduce legislation to protect them from surreptitious documentarians.
"They felt it was unfair for people to come onto a property without permission and do any kind of photography or recording," Haluska said. "It would be just like, you know, me coming to your house, walking in the door and recording what you do."
But the state already has a law against trespassing on agricultural land. Haluska said he does not know of incidents of photos or videos taken on the sly of any farms in his area.
Haluska said farmers in his area are concerned people would try to record or photograph their farm operations in an unflattering light.
"Sometimes you can take some things out of context, if you have a sick animal or something or if you have to dispatch an animal, which is just a normal part of doing business in the farming community, and sometimes it gets trumped up," he said.
To dispatch an animal means to kill it.
Haluska said his bill is meant to protect family-owned farms, rather than large, corporate ones, but his legislation doesn’t distinguish between the two.
Activists have suggested his bill is an attempt to muzzle those who try to document animal rights abuses at farms or suspicious activity related to natural gas drilling, which sometimes happens on agricultural property.
The bill has been referred to a House committee.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly described state Rep. Gary Haluska as a Republican. He is a Democrat. The story has been updated.