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Florida: Could Photo of Pigpen Get You 30 Years in the State Pen?

Posted: 03/18/11 04:42 PM ET

You've all heard that a picture's worth a thousand words. Turns out, if a Republican state senator in Florida gets his way, a picture of a farm might also be worth 30 years in prison. Senator Jim Norman (R-Tampa) recently introduced SB 1246 in the state Senate which makes it a felony of the first degree for anyone who:

"... photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner... "

Just to put the utter absurdity of this proposed bill into perspective, here's a list of other first degree felonies on the Florida books punishable by up to 30 years in prison:

Murder
Kidnapping
Sexual Battery
Child Molestation
Robbery with a Firearm
Aggravated Child Abuse
Burglary with Assault and Battery
Trafficking in Controlled Substances

And now, Senator Norman wants to add "Taking a Snapshot of a Farm" to that list of heinous crimes. That's right; first-degree felony for taking a picture. Standing on a public road taking a photo of a farm or, under the plain language of the bill, even doing a little landscape painting of a barn, could get you a long stretch in a cramped cell with a murderer for a roommate.

Has the country gone mad?

Putting aside the Constitution (as this bill does), and all the blatant violations of our fundamental rights that this bill embraces, what is Senator Norman thinking here? In December of 2010 he helped introduce a bill (SB 234) that "Limits a prohibition on carrying a concealed weapon or firearm into an elementary or secondary school facility, career center, or college or university facility... " Senator Norman obviously likes guns. He wants you to be able to carry a concealed weapon in private elementary schools. Seems he's a real 2nd Amendment guy -- it's the 1st Amendment and our other Constitutional rights that he seems to have real issues with. "Shoot it with a gun, just don't shoot it with a camera," is his apparent motto.

Why make it illegal for people to take pictures of farms? It's not because farm animals are shy or the roosters want a chance to comb their combs. It's because there are things happening down on the farm that the senator and his agribusiness buddies just doesn't want you to know about. Like rampant mistreatment of animals, irresponsible waste management, and free-flowing pollution -- including nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, residual antibiotics, hormones and various strains of fecal bacteria -- coursing into our public waterways. It's because there are violations of state and federal law -- animal and public health and safety and environmental laws and regulations -- happening every day on these industrial agriculture facilities. Senator Norman's misguided bill is yet another attempt to keep a tight, dark lid on the many, many wrongs being committed today by the factory farming industry.

Industrial ag operations are notorious polluters, and there are perhaps no more egregious agribusiness operators than the factory animal farms, or CAFOs, that are destroying our nation's local waterways. They're also notorious for their abuse of animals. However, where other industries are forced to comply with a multitude of health and environmental laws (and are subject to relative transparency in their waste disposal practices, permitting, and operations), these factory farms continue to hide behind a veil of secrecy.

If you don't believe me, contact your state department of agriculture, invoke your state's sunshine laws and ask for copies of all the public enforcement and waste management records of a local CAFO in your area. Tell them you'd like to know who owns the operation and how many animals they have. Say you'd like to see the veterinarian records. Ask for a copy of their Nutrient Management Plan and land application records. Chances are you won't get far. Most states in the country make these public records unavailable to their citizens under the poor excuses of national security imperatives or business confidentiality. Some states will simply tell you "no" and won't even bother with the lame excuses. It's all part of an effort by the industry and their lawmaker minions to keep dirty agribusiness off the radar and under wraps.

That's why Senator Norman doesn't want you taking pictures -- you just might document a violation of law. You might catch the industry in the act of inhuman slaughter of animals, of hog waste lagoons overflowing excrement into you local drinking water supply, or mountains of poultry manure running off into nearby streams. If it's a violation of one of our nation's environmental laws, like the Clean Water Act, that you document, the U.S. Congress has granted you with the right to take legal action to put a stop to it under the Act's citizen suit provisions. Senator Norman is trying to stop the people who are most impacted by industrial ag pollution from exercising that right and enforcing the law.

Of course, the proposed law is so crazy -- such an obvious affront to our Constitutional rights -- that you've got to believe that it isn't meant to be taken seriously and doesn't stand a chance of passing. But in the nothing-is-too-crazy-for-us-to-consider U.S. political arena, these days -- who knows?

So if you're heading down to Florida on vacation soon, you might just want to leave your camera at home. Because the last thing you want do on your first day of prison, when you're surrounded by rapists, kidnappers and armed robbers demanding to know "Whatcha in for?" is to have to blurt out "I took a picture of a farm." It'd be a hard 30 years.