Legislation targets undercover whistleblowers | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Legislation targets undercover whistleblowers

Posted By on Sun, Mar 5, 2017 at 9:27 AM

click to enlarge NO PICTURES, PLEASE: Undercover photos of potential animal cruelty violations — and, for that matter, human cruelty violations — would be discouraged by legislation pending in Arkansas. - NEW YORK TIMES
  • New York Times
  • NO PICTURES, PLEASE: Undercover photos of potential animal cruelty violations — and, for that matter, human cruelty violations — would be discouraged by legislation pending in Arkansas.

The Humane Society is sounding the alarm about a bill pending in the legislature that it says is aimed at squelching whistleblowers who gather undercover video of improper practices in workplaces,.

HB 1665 is the bill, sponsored by 25 Republican legislators, many from rural areas and all from the far right, to the extent there's much difference in the Republican delegation.

It's benignly titled a bill to give a "cause of action" for "unauthorized access to another person's property." The bill is written to allow action against, for example, a lawful employee of a chicken processor if he or she provides some footage of illegal activity in private company areas. The language, in part, says the law applies to:

An act that exceeds a person's authority to enter a nonpublic area of commercial property includes an employee who knowingly enters a nonpublic area of commercial property for a reason other than a bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment or doing business with the employer and without authorization subsequently:

(1) Captures or removes the employer's data, paper, records, or any other documents and uses the information contained on or in the employer's data, paper, records, or any other documents in a manner that damages the employer;

(2) Records images or sound occurring within an employer's commercial property and uses the recording in a manner that damages the employer;

In other words: Hog processor is responsible for unspeakable acts of cruelty to pigs. An employee takes pictures. Legal action is taken against inhumane processor as a result, or at least enormous public embarrassment. The employee who blew the whistle could be held liable for harm to the abuser.

It is not just pigs or puppy mills at issue. It's people. The same law would apply to a health aide who blew the whistle on a negligent and/or abusive nursing home or daycare facility. Said a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States:

HB 1665 would punish whistleblowers and investigators who provide reporters with footage of cruel, unsafe, and illegal activity going at workplaces. Rather than taking action to stop these types of activities from happening, some legislators are instead trying to punish those that bring them to light.

By causing a chilling effect on any employee in any business who would consider exposing unethical and illegal activity, HB 1665 jeopardizes freedom of the press, protection of free speech, and transparency at places that affect the most vulnerable like our senior citizens, children, and animals.

Similar legislation in other states has been opposed by over 70 different public interest organizations including Wounded Warriors Project, AARP, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Constitutional Rights.
These tort reform supporters sponsoring this legislation have included handsome non-economic damages  when a compensable loss can't be proved — $5,000 a day "for each day, or a portion of a day, that a defendant has acted in violation."

The effort to curb whistleblowers has been underway for years, as this New York Times article notes.

The Arkansas bill is on the agenda of the House Monday afternoon.

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