BOISE (CN) - An Idaho state senator likens investigative journalists to terrorists, the ACLU and others say in a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of an emergency "Ag Gag" law, which the plaintiffs say is meant to hide animal abuse and chill free speech.
Gov. Butch Otter signed the Senate Bill 1337 into law Feb. 28, making Idaho the seventh state to pass such a measure.
Under the law, anyone caught secretly filming "agricultural production" is subject to a prison term and a fine.
Twelve organizations and five people filed a 52-page federal complaint against the governor and attorney general last week.
The long list of plaintiffs includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and the Western Watersheds Project, along with news journal CounterPunch, Washington, D.C. journalist Will Potter, freelance Idaho journalist Blair Koch and agricultural investigations expert Daniel Hauff.
Idaho's law was enacted as "an emergency provision, which went into effect immediately upon the governor's signature," according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say the law violates the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Supremacy Clause.
Prior to his political career, Otter was a member "on the Board of Directors of the J.R. Simplot Company," according to a state website. "He also served as Director of the Food Products Division, [was] President of Simplot Livestock, and President of Simplot International. He retired in 1993."
The Ag Gag Law
"In essence, the law criminalizes undercover investigations and videography documenting the 'production of agricultural products for food, fiber, fuel and other lawful uses,'" according to the lawsuit.
"The law makes it criminal to document animal welfare, worker safety and food safety violations at an 'agricultural production facility,' thus 'gagging' speech that is critical of industrial agriculture, including speech that advances significant public interests in protecting Idahoans' safety."
The law's language is so broad it can be interpreted to apply to just about anyplace in the state where food is made into meals, public or private, the plaintiffs say.
Violating the law is punishable by a year in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
"The law defines agricultural production to include 'the processing and packaging of agricultural products into food.' So under that definition, every residential kitchen in Idaho is an agricultural production facility," Matthew Liebman, attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told Courthouse News on Friday.
"It also includes 'planting, irrigating, growing, fertilizing, harvesting or producing agricultural, horticultural, floricultural and viticultural crops, fruits and vegetable products, field grains, seeds, hay, sod and nursery stock, and other plants, plant products, plant byproducts, plant waste and plant compost,' such that virtually every yard and garden (and public park) is an agricultural production facility. So taking a video of someone's lawn or kitchen without their express permission would violate the ag gag law."