Ag-Gag Bill Receives Onslaught Of Opposition In Washington State

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A bill that would make it illegal for whistleblowers to film or photograph inside farms and slaughterhouses in Washington state was greeted on Tuesday with a resounding "no."

Referred to as an ag-gag law, the measure would cut off public access to agricultural facilities, meaning that activists, journalists and anyone else would be unable to document and report animal cruelty.

While public interest groups and Washington citizens came out in force to oppose the bill, not one organization or resident testified in support of it, Matt Dominguez, the farm animal protection public policy manager for The Humane Society of the United States, told The Dodo.

The Spokesman-Review, a large state newspaper, published a scathing op-ed Tuesday opposing ag-gag measures:

Washington legislators should steer clear of HB1104. It's unnecessary, probably unconstitutional and an offense to Washingtonians who believe light is the best disinfectant.

It's now up to the House Committee on Public Safety to approve or reject the bill.

Ag-gag bills have been criticized for allowing animal abuse to go unchecked as well as for impinging on citizens' first amendment rights. Dominguez, who was at Tuesday's hearing, notes that if industrial agriculturalists are doing nothing wrong, then there's no reason to cut off press access to their facilities.

"Reputable producers don't need to silence whistleblowers, and unscrupulous businesses don't deserve protection from them," he said.

UPDATE - The Seattle Times reports that Republican Floor Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, one of the bill's sponsors, has removed his name.

Asked whether he'd support it, Wilcox said: "I don't think it's going to see a place where I get to vote for it."