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State Senate Bill Could Be Unconstitutional

Last updated on Friday, March 29, 2013

(STATEHOUSE) - A bill that passed out of the Senate and is being considered in the House may be a constitutional violation.

Senate Bill 373 would make it illegal for to videotape or photograph an industrial or farm operation with the intent to defame, embarrass or otherwise harm the business. Sponsors of the bill say its designed to prevent groups who oppose the operation from disrupting private business.

David Orentlicher, law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, says the bill may be a violation of the constitutional right to free speech. Orentlicher says courts typically hear these cases when the offended business files a suit claiming trespass or violation of privacy. However, Orentlicher says the courts usually rule in favor of the person or group taking the photos or videos on grounds of free speech unless there is proof of misrepresentation.

Orentlicher says the bill might also be a problem because it isolates farm or industrial operations but doesn't include all businesses.

Orentlicher says the courts tend to take issue when the government favors some people over others when it comes to speech.

The bill does include a type of loophole designed to exempt whistleblowers if the photos or videos are turned over to law enforcement or a regulating agency with in 48 hours.

Orentlicher says this could also be considered a free speech violation since there may not be illegal activity going on, but the activity could still be in the public's interest.

The bill pass out of the House Agriculture Committee and is now headed to the full House for consideration.

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