We can’t think of any legitimate reason why the state of Idaho filed an appeal to overturn a federal ruling against the misguided ag-gag law, which was designed to thwart the secretive filming of agricultural practices and penalize whistleblowers with fines and possible jail time.
This looks like another case of throwing good money after bad — more expense to try to rescue an unconstitutional bill that tramples the First Amendment and sends a message to consumers that Idaho has something to hide.
Senate Bill 1337 passed in the 2014 Idaho Legislature after a film was circulated of a 2012 incident that depicted the abuse of cows at an Idaho dairy operation. This law and those in other states are over-the-top solutions to problems that could be solved with existing trespassing law and more strict scrutiny when hiring workers.
After the Idaho law passed, a coalition of animal rights activists filed suit. In a ruling last summer, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill rightly called the law unconstitutional, pointing out that the highly regulated agriculture industry is not a private matter: “Food production and safety are matters of the utmost public concern.” We couldn’t agree more. The people of Idaho and consumers of our agricultural products have a stake in what is produced for consumption and in seeing that potential whistleblowers have a protected path to investigate.
The fiscal impact statement of SB1337 suggested there would be none. Factor in this:
▪ A Legislature coming up with an unconstitutional bill that hurts the image of Idaho agriculture.
▪ The potential of paying $250,000 in attorney fees and costs incurred by those who filed the lawsuit.
▪ The unknown costs of the appeal process.
The present ag-gag law is blind to the intersection where industry rights and First Amendment rights overlap and conflict. We urge the state to drop the appeal and move on. “Winning” such an appeal would mean only more bad publicity, and then there would be another appeal.
If these costs and risks don’t concern the Legislature, they ought to concern voters in the coming election year.
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