A bill submitted by Florida state Sen. Jim Norman (R-Tampa) would make photographing a farm a first-degree felony unless the photographer has prior, written permission, according to the Florida Tribune.
Farmer Wilton Simpson, president of Simpson Farms, told the Tribune that the bill is necessary to protect farmers' property rights and intellectual property, but critics aren't swayed, calling the bill unnecessary.
Florida Senate bill 1246 would punish offending photographers and videographers with up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 or higher fine, according to one blogger who analyzed the bill. If passed, it would take effect on July 1.
The bill defines a farm as land "cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals or the storage of a commodity."
Norman's bill appears to be a reaction to the types of undercover videos shot by animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). But laws against trespassing or posing as farm employees already exist, making this new law unnecessary, according to Judy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Simpson argues that this bill goes one step further by outlawing photos taken from roadsides and other public property, where current laws do not apply.
Would the new law stand up to Constitutional scrutiny? As Grist writer Tom Laskawy points out, "It doesn't take a close reading of the Constitution to know you can't make photographing private property from a distance illegal."
Response to the bill has been pointed. The Orlando Sentinel called Norman its "chump of the week" for introducing the bill, which has not yet passed. One photography-related website, PhotoRadar, searched Florida public records and found that Norman "received $195,297 in donations during his 2010 election campaign, with agricultural, agri-chemical, construction and real estate firms among the top contributors."
A similar proposal introduced in Iowa would forbid taking videos of animals on farms or in abattoirs without permission. The punishment spelled out in this proposal is lower for first-time offenders (aggravated misdemeanor), but would rise to class "D" felonies for repeat offenders.