New developments are underway with the story we recently brought you about a new Florida bill to make any farm photography punishable with prison. Read on and you will see some interesting developments including those about the senator responsible. Here's the skinny:
SB1246 simply called “Farms” introduced by Jim Norman-R, Tampa, FL
Original bill stated:
- It is “an act relating to farms; prohibiting a person from entering onto a farm or photographing or video recording a farm without the owner's written consent…”
- In section (1)(1) trespassers on farm property would receive a first degree felony charge.
- In s. (1)(2) any photographs or video recording without written consent (yes, even from a distance) is punishable by first degree felony charge.
- Florida statutes define a first degree felony charge as 30 years imprisonment, possibly life, and $10,000 fine.
- A “Farm” means any land used for agricultural production, cattle, or storage of a commodity (even junk yards).
“The New York Times called it ‘croparazzi,' and news of the bill gained Internet buzz. But Monday [3/21/11], a heavily amended version of SB 1246 unanimously passed the Senate Agriculture Committee.” Which is why some speculate that the following changes were made to scale back the bill.
New Bill [3/21/11]:
- Section 1.1 creates exceptions for Department of Agriculture employees, law enforcement, investigators, and inspectors.
- The charge of first degree felony now becomes a first degree misdemeanor (one year prison, $1000 fine).
- It also appears the crime is only committed if on the actual property without written consent. That cleared GoogleEarth but still left out greenbelt exceptions. (Would these changes really make roadside pictures and aerial photography okay by law?)
- Section 1 (2)(a) defines “Audio or video records” as any audio or video recording, regardless of the recording medium or format, including, but not limited to, photographs, audio or videotapes, cd's, dvd's, or streaming media, whether stored on film stock, hard disks, solid state storage, or any electrical, magnetic, or optical or other form of data storage.
02/21/2011 Senate • Filed
03/07/2011 Senate • Referred to Agriculture; Criminal Justice; Budget -SJ 90
03/08/2011 Senate • Introduced -SJ 90
03/16/2011 Senate • On Committee agenda– Agriculture, 03/21/11, 10:15 am, 37 Senate Office Building
03/21/2011 Senate • CS by Agriculture; YEAS 4 NAYS 0
03/22/2011 Senate • Pending reference review under Rule 4.7(2) – (Committee Substitute) • CS by Agriculture read 1st time -SJ 258
03/24/2011 Senate • Now in Criminal Justice
|04/28/2011||Senate||• Withdrawn from Criminal Justice -SJ 568|
• Now in Budget
|05/03/2011||Senate||• Withdrawn from Budget -SJ 725|
• Placed on Calendar, on 2nd reading
• Placed on Special Order Calendar, 05/04/11
|05/04/2011||Senate||• Read 2nd time -SJ 836|
• Amendment(s) adopted (814334, 925436) -SJ 836
• Ordered engrossed -SJ 836
• Placed on 3rd reading
|05/06/2011||Senate||• Read 3rd time -SJ 1114|
• Amendment(s) adopted (692944, 849774) -SJ 1114
• CS passed as amended; YEAS 25 NAYS 10 -SJ 1115
|05/06/2011||House||• In Messages|
|05/07/2011||House||• Indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration|
• Died in Messages
What's the back story? Norman's under criminal investigations?
Purported motivation behind the bill:
To protect farm operations that may be a unique component to the business. “Norman said he's trying to protect farmers from ‘unfair outside assaults' on their intellectual and private property rights.” There are already safeguards for that like strict trespassing and theft laws and litigation as a recourse.
Suspected and admitted motives:
Many speculated that the idea was to keep activists from documenting animal cruelty; not as obvious before, it's fully admitted in the bill's analysis! Salon.com reported, “The speculation is that Norman is toting water for large agribusinesses. The kind of companies that don't want attention, whether it's because of the hiring of illegal aliens or of the inhumane practices for both people and animals on those farms.” Interestingly, enforcing illegal immigration action was one of Jim's election platforms. Other people's farm operation concerns are waste, lax regard for regulations, and overuse of chemicals.
Wilton Simpson, the egg farmer supposedly responsible for prompting the bill, voiced concerns about undercover activist documentation, although he could not name one instance. While causing a stir, undercover footage seems more rare than rampant. He worried that such filming leads to changes like California's 2008 constitutional amendment to ban animal confinement where they cannot even turn around or move limbs, set to take place 2015. Oh no – anything but industry wide reform that helps animals and food quality but takes a really long time to go into effect…
You can ascertain from the previous paragraphs that there are obvious Big Ag connections. Simpson is acting as the propped up “voice” of FL farmers. His Dade City egg operation produces 21 million eggs per year and he is also president of the Pasco County Fair Association. He filed paperwork to be in the next senate elections.
“Siplin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, assured members Monday [3/21/11] that egg farms are clean and sanitary, findings based on his trip to another Simpson farm last week. Florida farmers, he said, need their production methods protected. After the meeting, Siplin said he was unaware Simpson's concerns spurred Norman's bill. ‘I didn't know they were friends,' he said. ‘I had an interest in it, so I asked the staff to organize it.'” St. Petersburg Times
So now that you do know, care to take another sampling somewhere else before assuring that all egg farms are clean and sanitary?
The USDA backs factory farms, and they seem to have a lot of leeway in their operations, thus, people feel the need to gather more info. Geez, why are they so concerned about the food they eat or how it was killed? Florida has very few organic farms, so Big Ag in a sense rules the roost. This law will foster even more free range with the USDA still giving the thumbs up.
Norman launched the bill full force without presenting it to some of his farming benefactors like the Florida Farm Bureau who were uncomfortable with such harsh punishment for filming. They helped rewrite the bill. They were concerned more about the intent behind filming practices like those that would purposely angle film to vilify non-harmful farm operations. They want to promote rural living and don't want to look bad. Thanks to Norman's representation, many farming operations look worse. It just adds absurdity to the claim that Norman looks out for the little guy.
Norman and his wife Mearline were closely involved with the late investor, Ralph Hughes. Norman's pro-development votes profited Hughes' concrete products company. Hughes donated lots of money to Norman's campaign and also gave them something else…
Criminal investigations for ethics crimes:
Whether a loan or gift, the Normans received enough to purchase a nearly $500,000 Arkansas home without a mortgage. Norman always claimed it was his wife's baby, that he had nothing to do with it. “The source of the money for the Arkansas home lies at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Kevin Ambler, who lost the District 12 Republican primary to Norman…He alleges that Norman violated a state law requiring candidates to report all assets and liabilities [including the two unclaimed boats -HF] to qualify for election and therefore should not have been on the primary ballot. According to Ambler, Norman failed to reveal a debt to Hughes.” Norman's lawyer had contested that it was the wife's purchase and Norman himself received nothing. St. Petersburg Times
The Florida Ethics Commission ruled that some of the complaints filed against Norman for taking the money will finally go under investigation. One resident estimated that there were between 60 and 80 others who also filed complaints. He was disqualified from last year's ballot after the news broke, but his appeal overturned the decision just a few days shy of the election. Criminal investigations will preclude the ethics investigations for awhile.
After the primary election, he ran unopposed. Voters were so upset about his continuing to run that they opted for a variety of write-ins instead: Alfred E. Newman, Jesus, Santa, Fidel Castro, Stephen Colbert, Harry Truman, Jimmy Buffet, Kermit the Frog, Honest Abe, “Someone Honest,” a slew of cartoon characters, Voldemort and some went with “anyone but Jim Norman” and “My cat is more ethical.”
Some call Norman crazy and wonder why he doesn't just drop a bill that is so unpopular and unconstitutional. He's not crazy or incompetent: he's following an age-old MO of secretly overshooting, scaling back to appease folks after an outcry, and then he still gets his (or someone else's) way. He doesn't mind being the fall guy for a while if he sets a precedent that other states will follow. He's cutting the trail. Example, Iowa is already following suit. It could even be a strange way of vilifying farmers so that small farming operations become squelched and scrutinized paving way for more Big Ag operations.
“Proponents of Norman’s bill, such as the [Florida] Farm Bureau, argue that animal-advocacy groups want to put them out of business, and will manipulate images covertly taken from agricultural operations to meet that end. They also point out that a single instance of undercover footage allegedly showing animal abuse or harsh living conditions can impact an entire industry — forcing consumers to cope with higher prices.” The Florida Independent
That is a valid concern, but is this bill the answer? It presented a major violation to constitutional rights. As long as unbridled, questionable operations take place, there will be those with true anti-cruelty intentions to blow the whistle. When they do standards usually rise. You can see a much smaller-scale example of this by watching an episode of Fox's Kitchen Nightmares.
It seems with all this fighting and confusion, both farmers and activists are in for more control as lawmakers and committees sweep up this opportunity.
Big Ag operations will continue to have minute accountability which seems to be the crux of the problem. If I have a kid and someone suspects abuse, an anonymous tip sends me to jail; if others gather substantial evidence of animal abuse and other crimes, they go to jail! You “snoops” out there filming abuse and other insidiousness will just have to fly the coop if lawmakers continue in this forceful way.
Some are already acting relieved at the changes, like it's a victory. They are missing the point and feeding right into Big Ag's open hands. Please don't be appeased and let this “milder version” pass into law. It sets a very unsettling precedent that leads to unnecessary imprisonment for those trying to expose injustices. Animal rights groups believe it will continue to sanction abuse. If documentary footage caused such a ruckus you would think concerned lawmakers would dig deep into the cause, instead of quelling those pesky fact finders. But, you probably don't think like a politician with mutually beneficial relations and big money on the line.
We don't just like to post stories and move on; we're about real action! It's not over yet. Stay tuned for more updates. Petition coming soon! Feel free to contact the Florida senate, we're sure they would love your input.
The bill, amendments, history, and fiscal analysis:
General information about the bill and its developments:
Map of organic farm spots:
Note: the blog listed claims it is not a news source. However, it involves one of the ethics complainants and points to other sources