The animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms would not be the only potential wrongdoing eligible for action by Newton County prosecutors if a proposal considered during the 2013 Indiana General Assembly had been enacted into law.
Senate Bill 373 would have made it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, to photograph or video record any agricultural or industrial activities without the written consent of the property owner.
Lawmakers in at least 10 other states have approved similar "ag-gag" statutes, in part to deter undercover exposes of agricultural operations, though courts later struck down several of those laws as unconstitutional.
Hoosier legislators, unable to agree on how to criminalize the recording of agricultural activities, ultimately decided in 2014 to make trespassing at an agricultural operation a Class A misdemeanor.
The crime becomes a felony if the trespasser causes more than $750 in damage.
Senate Enrolled Act 101 likely does not apply, however, to the recordings released Tuesday by the Florida-based Animal Recovery Mission, since their undercover investigator was employed by Fair Oaks Farms between August and November 2018 and not a trespasser.
State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, sponsor of the proposal to ban agricultural recording, said it's too soon to say whether he'll file it again during the 2020 legislative session in the wake of the Fair Oaks video.
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"Seeing as this is just a one-time incident that we're aware of, I don't think we need a knee-jerk reaction to do something legislatively necessarily," Holdman said.
"I'm sure I'll be hearing from Farm Bureau folks about the incident and what they think needs to be done, if anything."
The senator said he watched the Fair Oaks video Tuesday night with a farmer in his northeast Indiana district.
Holdman said it's clear the recording was politically motivated because anyone who cares about animals would have tried to put a stop to the abuse.
"People who own farm animals want to take care of farm animals because they produce, and do what they need to do to be profitable, if you take care of those animals," Holdman said. "If you hire people that abuse them, they deserve to be fired."
Holdman also condemned consumers and businesses boycotting Fair Oaks dairy products in response to what he described as "an isolated incident."
"That doesn't solve the problem," he said. "You just put people out of work when you do that."