05:28 GMT01 October 2020
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    Dairy industry lobbyists in Idaho helped write legislation that makes it illegal to take photographs or record videos at agricultural facilities, acts which in the past have exposed animal cruelty and unsanitary practices.

    Farming groups in multiple states have thrown their support behind the criminalization of recording. But in Idaho, which passed an "ag-gag" law last year, lobbyists actually crafted the bill before handing it off to lawmakers, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.

    From The Intercept: "State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said he sponsored the bill in response to an activist-filmed undercover video that showed cows at an Idaho plant being beaten by workers, dragged by the neck with chains, and forced to live in pens covered in feces, which activists said made the cows slip, fall and injure themselves. The facility, Bettencourt Dairies, is a major supplier for Burger King and Kraft. The workers who were filmed were fired."

    Idaho is one of the country’s top three dairy producers and the industry generates $2.5 billion every year in the state.

    Patrick thinks the abuse in the Bettencourt video was set up by the undercover employee. Regardless, his bill was signed into law by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter on February 28, 2014, just two weeks after it was introduced.

    Violators of the law, those who surreptitiously enter and record agricultural operations, face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

    Dan Steenson, a registered lobbyist for the Idaho Dairymen's Association, a trade group for the industry, testified in support of the ag-gag bill, clearly disclosing his relationship with the trade group. But emails obtained by the Intercept show that Steenson also helped draft the bill.

    On January 30, 2014, before Senator Patrick's bill was formally introduced, Steenson emailed Bob Naerebout, another Dairymen lobbyist, and Brian Kane, the assistant chief deputy of the state attorney general's office, with a copy of the legislation.

    "The attached draft incorporates the suggestions you gave us this morning," Steenson wrote, thanking Kane for his help in reviewing the bill.

    Kane responded with "one minor addition" to the legislation, which he described to Steenson as "your draft."

    The draft text of the legislation emailed by Steenson closely resembles the bill signed into law.

    "Dan and the Idaho dairymen had a large input but also Idaho Farm Bureau as well as Idaho-eastern seed growers," Patrick said in an email to The Intercept. "This was not about only dairy so but all of agriculture since all farms have risks of distorted facts. We only want the whole truth to be told not just a few social media sites."

    The law made Idaho the seventh state to pass an "ag-gag" law. This week, North Carolina may become the next state to do so.

    The American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs, however, filed a federal suit against the Idaho law, claiming some of its language is unconstitutional. Both sides both sides are awaiting a ruling from US District Judge Lynn Winmill.


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