House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, withdrew legislation Friday that would have made it a crime to secretly take pictures on private property with the goal of hurting the owner.
By Megan Banta & Tim Grimes
A bill to make it a crime to secretly shoot photos or video on private property with the goal of harming a business owner died Friday when House Speaker Brian Bosma pulled it from consideration in the middle of a contentious debate.
Supporters of the bill - which had already passed the Indiana Senate - said it was meant to protect industrial and farming operations from outside groups trying to use undercover video to discredit them.
But during the House debate - as opponents kept hammering away at what they said were problems with the bill - Bosma, R-Indianapolis, abruptly ended the discussion and pulled the bill without a vote.
Opponents broke into applause.
They had argued the legislation - which had become known as the "ag gag" bill - was so broad it would put a chilling effect on anyone who might want to expose wrongdoing, not just at a livestock farm or manufacturing plant but at a nursing home or a restaurant or a nonprofit operation.
Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said he appreciated efforts by some lawmakers to try to make the measure more workable. But he said the result was a bill that was actually worse than earlier versions and would have protected businesses acting unethically or breaking the law.
"It's not capable of being made good," Delaney said. "The core idea is bad."
The proposal would have allowed prosecutors to charge individuals with trespassing - a Class A misdemeanor - if they secretly took photos or video on private property and meant to do the business harm.
And some opponents argued the language was so vague that individuals could be charged for not than just shooting images but also for tweeting or even writing about what they saw.
Earlier versions of the legislation protected individuals who shot photos or videos if they turned them in to police or prosecutors within a few days. But the bill's sponsors stripped that defense from the bill on Friday before offering it up for votes in both chambers.
"We can't really afford, and I don't think we really want to go to that place in our culture, where we turn vigilantes loose with cameras, going around, doing the work of police and regulatory agencies that are given the responsibility to take care of use and make us safe," said the bill's author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.
Shortly before Bosma's decision to pull the bill, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, had urged the bill's House sponsor Bill Friend, R-Macy, to do just that.
"This nation has a proud tradition of exposing wrongdoing," Pelath said, describing how Upton Sinclair had changed the meat industry with his book The Jungle.
"I know you've tried, but this bill's bad," Pelath said to Friend. "I'm going to ask you to withdraw it. It's the wrong thing to do. It's the wrong time."
Bosma later urged the Senate to accept the earlier House plan. That was a significantly watered down version of the bill, which upped the penalties for lying on an application with the intent of obtaining harmful information. But it didn't address taking photos or videos.
"I was confident that the one that passed the House had passed constitutional muster because we actually had some noted constitutional lawyers review it," Bosma said.
But late on Friday, Holdman declined to call that version of the bill for a vote and said through a spokeswoman that he would let the bill die.
Megan Banta and Tim Grimes are reporters at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.