SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers took aim at what one representative calls “animal-rights terrorists” who shoot videos or photos on farmers’ property without permission to create propaganda to destroy the agriculture industry.
"This is not about animals. This is a group of people who want to put us out of business. Make no mistake about it," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, a rancher and farmer.
Noel said ranchers are good people who care for their animals and "we certainly don't want some jack wagon coming in and taking pictures of them."
The Utah House on Friday overwhelmingly approved HB187, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, after some spirited debate. The bill now moves to the Senate. Democrats opposed to the measure called it too broad.
"My concern is that this bill simply goes too far," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake.
The bill would make it a class A misdemeanor to hide a recording device on a farm and class B misdemeanor shoot video or photos after being asked not to or record while trespassing.
Mathis said animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals raise millions of dollars for "slick ads and propaganda" but spend little on animal welfare. He called them "animal-rights terrorists" during a legislative committee meeting.
"I think it's time someone stands up," said Mathis, a veterinarian and part-time farmer.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, wondered if a child taking pictures on a field trip to a farm could be prosecuted under the proposed law.
Supporters of the bill said they couldn't see that happening.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said the measure is not just about outside groups. A farmworker may record behavior that should be brought to authorities. "There is no whistleblower protection," he said.
At an earlier hearing on the bill, PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt said undercover photography is needed to bring public attention to animal abuse on factory farms. Such investigations have led to criminal prosecutions in some states, she said.
"I think it's an invasion of privacy," said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan.