House rejects ban on animal photos

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A proposal that would have made it a felony to photograph animals on private property was rejected Tuesday by the Missouri House.

House members had tried to add the language to a Senate-passed bill on agriculture and taxes. The House passed the bill without the provision on photographing animals and returned the measure to the Senate.

The provision would have made it a Class D felony, carrying a maximum five years in prison, to photograph, videotape or an image of "any aspect of an animal facility" if the recording equipment were placed on private property.

Reps. Rick Johnson and Rob Schaaf led the fight to kill the proposal, which Johnson called the "puppy mill protection act" -- a reference to Missouri's dog breeding operations, some of which are criticized over their methods and practices.

"We'll be saying a picture is worth a thousand words, but in Missouri a picture of Farmer Brown milking his cow is worth 90 days," said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Jim Guest, R-Kingdom City, who said he wanted to protect farmers from animal rights activists.

Guest said he feared groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Earth Liberation Front, which he called "a terrorist animal rights group."

But Johnson said Missouri's existing laws contain sufficient penalties for trespassing on private property and could be used against snooping photographers.

"We already have laws that provide for trespass itself," said Johnson, D-High Ridge. "To have an additional penalty for taking a picture is clearly an attempt to protect puppy mills."

Johnson predicted that supporters would try to add the felony language to some other bill. The legislative session ends Friday.

A similar provision was added to a bill passed last year in the House but did not become law.

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