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Bill to criminalize social-media photos dies

INDIANAPOLIS – Serious questions about a compromise version of a bill meant to shield agricultural operations from unwanted video and photos led to its demise Friday night.

The dubious version of the legislation had already passed the Senate despite concerns that it would make it a crime to take or post embarrassing photos of any business on social media.

Then during intense debate in the House, Republican Speaker Brian Bosma withdrew the bill from consideration before a final vote could be taken.

"This bill has far-reaching implications, not just agriculture," said Rep. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend. "It's opened up the spectrum so wide it's not funny. I understand you are trying to accomplish something good but look how far the bill has gone. It's actually worse."

Instead, Bosma encouraged the Senate to approve an earlier version of the controversial legislation that he said was constitutionally sound. It did not address taking photos or video at all.

But Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he decided not to move forward with that either because he felt it did little to address the situation.

He said he will try again on the issue next year.

Earlier in the day, the doomed version of the bill would have made it a misdemeanor to commit an act – including but not limited to taking surreptitious photos or video – on real property with the intent to harm any business operating on that property.

"We ought not put people in jail for taking a picture," said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "Especially if the picture is true."

Democrats gave numerous examples of how the law could impact Hoosiers. For instance, a person could be prosecuted for simply jumping up and down screaming in a restaurant about bad soup. Or for taking a video of cockroaches crawling across the floor and then posting it, or crafting scathing online reviews or texts about a business.

One House Republican pointed out that someone taking photos of abhorrent care conditions at a nursing home could be charged with a crime.

Holdman, the author of the bill, defended the compromise, saying prosecutors will focus on a person's intent to harm and use their discretion wisely.

He said the intent of the legislation was to protect the private property rights of businesses from being exposed to undercover-type investigations that may or may not be true.

Supporters pointed to photos and videos of livestock operations sometimes pushed by the Humane Society of the U.S.