Bill would limit whistleblower activities on PA farms

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Journalists should be worried, said First Amendment experts.

“The public is better served when there is more information available,” said Ken Bunting, director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which has signed a national petition against the bills. “Anytime you are trying to curb the exercise of watchdog journalism,” you run the risk of violating the First Amendment.

The bill is “scary,” Pittsburgh photographer Scott Goldsmith wrote in an email. Goldsmith has frequently taken photos and videos of drill sites, including for PublicSource.org.

“It smells like they’re trying to hide something,” Goldsmith wrote. “What happens if something illegal, corrupt or environmentally dangerous is happening on the agricultural property?”

Nearly 60 groups, including animal rights, civil rights, lawyers, public safety, food safety and journalism organizations have signed a national petition against the ag-gag bills.

David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said people shouldn’t become felons if they see a crime taking place and decide to do something about it.

“If someone is there lawfully and appropriately and they see animal cruelty and pull out their cell phone [to take a picture] and they send it into law enforcement…they’ve committed a felony,” LaBahn said.

After reviewing the Pennsylvania law, First Amendment expert Robert D. Richards of Penn State University and the founding co-director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, said he seriously questions whether it is constitutional.

H.B. 683 would also go against the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, Richards said.

The law, established in 1986, makes it illegal for an employer to “discriminate or retaliate” against an employee if the person makes a “good faith report” about an incident of “wrongdoing or waste” of the employer.

“I always find it suspect when legislators are trying to create laws that are trying to keep information from the public,” Richards said.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org.

Read this story on the PublicSource site: http://publicsource.org/investigations/bill-would-limit-whistleblower-activities-pa-farms

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