MADISON — A state legislator is planning to introduce a bill that would force anyone who videotapes or photographs incidents of animal abuse on a Wisconsin farm to report it to law enforcement authorities or face a fine.
Animal rights groups are vowing to fight what they are calling an “ag-gag” that Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, plans to introduce. They believe it’s aimed at disrupting undercover investigations that have brought embarrassment and financial pressure from customers to dozens of farms across the country after they were exposed for abusing animals.
Nerison’s bill is expected to force anyone with video or photographic evidence of animal abuse to take it almost immediately to police.
Such a quick-reporting provision “cuts short investigations and sweeps animal abuse under the rug,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, an advocacy organization that has used undercover investigations to document two apparent cases of animal cruelty on Wisconsin dairy farms over the past 18 months. Undercover investigations seek to show a pattern of cruelty and who is responsible, Bala said, and rapid-reporting laws undermine that opportunity, adding that law enforcement officials are under no obligation to continue the investigation.
It poses an interesting quandary. The activists who like to record things and save them up for a media blitz are opposing this law because it would undermine their activities. Since they would have to disclose their recordings to police right away, it would not allow them to gather many different recordings to release all at once for effect (or mix together to make it look worse than it is). The farmers support this for precisely the reason that the activists oppose it.
We do have mandatory reporting laws in place in a number of areas. If someone observes abuse of a child, many people (like teachers) are required by law to report that abuse. Even then, however, not everyone is required to report abuse to law enforcement. But those laws are in place for abuse of people. In the case of this proposed law, we are talking about the abuse of property. I’m not aware of any law on the books that requires people to report abuse of property.
Then again, the animal rights activists are so vehement in large part because they elevate animals to the status of people and believe they have the same rights as people. We have the interesting case where if society accepts the activists’ contention that animals are of the same status as people and worthy of the same legal protections, then they should support a law that requires people to immediately report animal abuse to the authorities. But they don’t support this law because it would interfere with their method of activism. And the farmers who one would think wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle of being reported to the authorities all the time are willing to put up with it because it’s more tolerable than having the activists smearing them with skewed hidden recordings of their activities.
In the end, the legislature should not pass this law. It is probably unconstitutional to force people to report abuse of property, but even if it is not, it is a bad idea to set that precedent. While it is the good and right thing to do to report property abuse/damage to the authorities, it is not the responsibility of government to compel it.