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Farm trespassing law gets second look

Some argue protection may do more harm

– An attempt to protect farms and other businesses from trespassers who take embarrassing photos or videos is getting another look at the state level.

The Interim Study Committee on Economic Development heard testimony on the issue Wednesday after the legislature dropped the proposal at the end of session.

The bill went through various incarnations – some possibly infringing on First Amendment rights.

Supporters say the state’s trespassing law needs to be strengthened to protect farms from unscrupulous people whose sole intent is to harass and harm a business, usually a livestock operation. But opponents say bringing legitimate issues of animal abuse to light isn’t harassment.

“Farmers who conduct themselves to the highest ethical standards are still the target of trespassers,” said Amy Cornell of the Indiana Farm Bureau. “A remedy is needed here.”

She wants lawmakers to expand the definition of trespassing to include fences and locked doors that reasonably imply entry is prohibited. Right now, a sign must be placed nearby for trespassing charges to come into play.

But other versions of the bill would have prohibited people from posting or distributing photos or videos – even if they were accurate. Instead, they were required to give them to authorities.

Opponents of the bill said Indiana statutes already provide recourse for the concerns that advocates raised – such as filing a libel and defamation lawsuit, pursuing criminal trespass charges, or firing employees who break work rules or lie on applications to gain access to facilities.

“Not all farmers support this bill,” said Barbara Cox, a fourth-generation farmer. “We don’t have trespass problems. If I don’t want trespassers, I put a sign up.”

She said that sometimes it takes agencies months or years to act, but taking a photo of a farmer pouring manure down a stream and giving it to the media gets results quickly.

Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, said the legislation isn’t just about farms, and it overstates the problem.

“This just intimidates someone from wanting to uncover abuse of any kind,” he said. “I oppose any legislation that would discourage people from wanting to do the right thing.”

Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said all sides agree trespassing is wrong, but there is disagreement on the consequences.

The committee can make recommendations to the legislature for the 2014 session.

nkelly@jg.net

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