Now that I’ve lured you in with my hyperbolic title, please read on.
Let’s go on a ride through old Florida, the scenic pastures and glades lining our roads and highways. Close your eyes . . . you’re riding shotgun down your local state road, on the right there’s a wide swath of open land, dotted with Jersey cows and the occasional live oak, draped with Spanish moss. One cow, catching some shade under the biggest tree, catches your eye. You pull out your phone, snap a picture, post it on Facebook and . . . FLASHING LIGHTS! SIRENS! An official sounding voice over a loud speaker says, “Ma’am. Pull. Over.”
The driver stops and asks what’s the matter. But, the officer is not interested in the driver. He proceeds to the passenger side of the car, right hand fingering his holster, and orders you to slowly step out of the vehicle, now.
“The phone, drop it!”
“Um, okay. Why?”
This scene could become reality if Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has his way. He wants to make it a first-degree felony to photograph a farm animal without the owner’s permission in writing. SB 1246 would carry a thirty-year
maximum prison sentence. The bill defines a farm as any land “cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals or the storage of a commodity.” My lovely wife grows herbs outside of our porch. So next time someone takes a picture of my dog when he’s sniffing the basil, she best watch out for the Man.
I feel compelled to point out that under Florida law, bestiality is only a third-degree felony, with a maximum sentence of five years.
There are several reasons that this is probably unconstitutional under the U.S. and Florida constitutions. But, according to Wilton Simpson, president of Simpson Farms, which is in Norman’s district, the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” involving farm operations. Yep, he went there. He invoked IP to justify this bill. Simpson also thinks the law would prevent groups like PETA from posing as farmworkers to secretly film agricultural operations (of course, he couldn’t name an instance in which that happened)
Judy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said shooting property from a roadside or from the air is legal. The bill “is just flat-out unconstitutional not to mention stupid,” she said. Keep in mind, that legislatures, (especially Florida’s) generally don’t care that something could or should be declared unconstitutional. They’re just protecting our intellectual property rights!
Simpson said he doesn’t think that “innocent” roadside photography would be prosecuted even if the bill is passed as introduced, but there would be nothing to stop prosecutors from charging people with this first-degree felony. Even a completely bogus arrest for such a high-level offense would foreclose many people’s chances for all kinds of jobs.
Simpson says, “Farmers are a common-sense people. A tourist who stops and takes a picture of cows — I would not imagine any farmer in the state of Florida that cares about that at all.” The problem is that farmers don’t change people – the State does.
Sen. Norman needs to mellow his harsh. This is a dumb bill and a waste of our time and money. To anyone claiming that it protects farmers’ “intellectual property rights,” I would ask them what rights they think they’re talking about. First commenter to name that right wins the First Annual Sen. Jim Norman Award for Too Much Time On Your Hands. Zies Widerman & Malek attorneys are not eligible. Sorry guys.