‘Ag-gag’ Bill Coming to Wisconsin

February 26, 2015

A GOP legislator, who is also a farmer, says he’s working on a bill that would require people who videotape or photograph cases of animal abuse on farms to immediately contact law enforcement or face fines.

Rep. Lee Nerison of Westby, chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, says he’s going to introduce his bill at the request of farmers who told him that video investigations can harm their reputations and livelihoods.

But critics say it’s a so-called ag-gag bill like those in seven states that have already passed them and threaten fines and criminal charges ranging from tampering with a business to trespassing. These bills were developed with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that unites wealthy corporate special interests with state legislators around the country to develop “model” bills on business and environmental regulation, taxes, consumer protection, social policies, and other issues. Legislators then introduce those bills (or variations of them) in their own states.

The agriculture industry in Wisconsin is waiting to see Nerison’s bill, but ag-gag bills elsewhere have drawn support from the industry. Agriculture interests contributed about $501,000 to current Wisconsin GOP legislators between 2011 and July 2014, including $4,075 to Nerison. In addition to direct contributions from the industry, a PAC operated by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation spent about $229,000 on outside electioneering activities between 2011 and July 2014 to support current GOP legislators, including $19,322 on behalf of Nerison in the 2014 fall elections.

Nerison’s largest ag industry contributors between 2011 and July 2014 were a factory farm owner and two agriculture PACs: Howard and Kelly Roth, of Wauzeka, owners of Roth Feeder Pigs, $1,900; Cooperative Outreach for Objective Politics PAC, $1,000; and Corn PAC, $500.

Nerison’s proposal is opposed by the Humane Society and other animal rights groups, which claim the real goal of ag-gag bills is to stunt undercover investigations that could reveal animal cruelty.

Since mid-2013, two undercover video investigations – here and here – showed employees on two Wisconsin farms kicking, stabbing, and dragging cows with chains.