In early March, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law SB 1337, the so-called Ag-Gag Bill, which criminalizes whistle-blowing at Idaho's agricultural operations, including farms, ranches and dairies. Monday morning, a contingent of litigants appeared at the Idaho Statehouse to announce that they had filed suit against Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, claiming the ag-gag law "has both the purpose and effect of impairing the public debate over animal welfare, food safety environmental, and labor issues that arise on public and private land."
The ACLU, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Center for Food Safety are among 17 total litigants that filed suit.
"Old McDonald is saying you can't come here, you can't look here," said ALDF Director of Litigation Carter Dillard during the announcement of the suit at the Idaho Statehouse.
For him, the ag-gag law is an affront to transparency.
"The public can't improve the situation in these facilities if it doesn't know what's going on," he said.
But for local attorney Maria Andrade, the law could also harm workers at Idaho's agricultural facilities.
"This law is not only a threat to animals. There's a trickle-down threat to our agricultural workers," she said.
The law is punishable with a misdemeanor charge of interference with agricultural production, punishable by up to a year in prison, up to a $5,000 fine and mandated restitution to be paid by whomever pled guilty to the crime. The law mandates that the restitution be equal to twice the value of damage incurred as a result of breaking the law. A first violation of Idaho's animal cruelty law, except in cases of animal poisoning and cockfights, is punishable by up to six months and a fine of between $100 and $5,000.
"There's a greater penalty for documenting animal cruelty on an Idaho farm than to commit an act of animal cruelty," Dillard said.
A central tenet of the lawsuit is the argument that Idaho already has laws on the books that protect private businesses against unauthorized intrusion; the ag-gag law enhances penalties for the same illegal behavior, effectively giving the agricultural industry privileged status in Idaho. District 18 State Rep. Ylana Rubel said the law is particularly vulnerable because it criminalizes true speech.
"I think there's a better case against this law than against [similar] laws in other states," she said.
Earlier this month, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden determined that the law did not violate the Idaho or United States constitutions. ACLU Executive Director Monica Hopkins said that determination wouldn't stop the lawsuit: "We have disagreed with the AG several times," she said.