SB 1246, introduced by Senator Jim Norman (R-12), would make trespassing on a farm and photographing the farm, a first degree felony.
Under the bill as it presently stands, a person could face a first degree felony charge, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, for:
- Entering onto a farm or other property where agricultural operations are being carried out without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
- Photographing, video recording, or otherwise producing images or pictorial records of the farm without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
As can be expected, the draft of SB 1246 that was introduced on March 8 has drawn sharp criticism from animal rights groups and First Amendment proponents.
I spoke with Dennis Cadle, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Nelson, this afternoon about the measure. Cadle stated that the bill is set to undergo significant revisions to address constitutional concerns and to clarify the intent requirement for violating the law.
The Purpose Behind the Introduction of SB 1246
According to Cadle, the purpose behind the measure is the protection of property rights and intellectual property rights of farmers in the State of Florida. Cadle explained that the proposed legislation is designed to prevent persons or groups such as PETA, the Humane Society and others from being able to conduct covert or undercover “sting operations” on farms because they disagree with “otherwise legitimate business operations” of the farms.
Cadle likened the activity of these groups to actions on the part of abortion opponents who would use improper means to object to otherwise legal actions.
Cadle clarified that the bill is not intended to act as a shield to allow farmers and ranchers to avoid scrutiny for illegal acts such as cruelty to animals or the employment of illegal aliens. The application of the law would be limited to persons who, for example, gain entry onto the property by misrepresentation or subterfuge and then proceed to film or photograph legal activities they happen to disagree with.
Revisions Are in the Works for SB 1246
Of course, for such limits to apply, the bill will have to undergo major revisions. As it stands, the language of the bill is so broad that an individual who unwittingly wanders onto a farmer’s property after getting lost on a hike would be in violation and face a first degree felony charge, as would a tourist who snaps a photograph of a farm scene from the roadway.
Cadle explained that as part of the overhaul of SB 1246, a person would have to actually be trespassing on the farm in order to face criminal charges for photographing, video recording or otherwise producing visual records of the farm.
Anyone interested in tracking SB 1246 can sign up for updates from the Florida Senate website.
Senator Jim Norman can be contacted at (813) 265-6260 or (850) 487-5068. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.