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General Assembly

Bill to ban activists’ images gets Senate OK

Would give private farms and firms legal protection

– Hoosiers could be prosecuted for photographing or videotaping embarrassing or illegal activity at farming or industrial operations and then distributing the images to defame or harm the business.

Senate Bill 373 passed the Senate 30-20 on Tuesday. All area senators supported the measure, which now moves to the Indiana House.

The bill’s author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said vigilantes gain access to private property to take images – sometimes through the ruse of being an employee. Many of them are animal activists looking for evidence of possible abuse.

“We have law enforcement. We have regulatory agencies. We don’t need folks out there taking the law into their own hands,” he said.

The bill does not affect any photos or videos taken while on public property.

Proponents called the measure a protection of private-property rights, while opponents said it erodes whistleblower protections.

An amendment was added as an effort to protect whistleblowers, and Holdman said the bill allows those recording the images to turn them over to authorities. They still are not allowed to disseminate anything publicly or would face prosecution for an infraction.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, questioned whether the law violates Indiana’s constitutional free press protections.

It says, “No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: But for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.”

She noted that if someone witnesses and records illegal dumping of waste into rivers or other environmental or safety hazards, Indiana law should not infringe on making that information public.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the bill also goes against long-held civil law that the truth is a defense in all libel and defamation cases.

“The truth is not defense in a court of law. Did you ever think we would pass a law that said that?” he asked.

Lanane said a person could commit a crime when making public a truthful act, but the business would lose a civil case for defamation because truth always prevails.

Holdman countered that he holds private property rights as sacred.

nkelly@jg.net

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