HB 405 To Be Reconsidered By NC House For Possible Override

Governor McCrory vetoed two bills last week.  The first came on May 28th when he vetoed SB2 which addresses an opt out for magistrates and register of deeds in performing services related to gay marriage.  See the Daily News Fix story on SB2 override.  The second, the focus of this article, came on the 29th, HB 405, an act with the intent of “protecting property owners from damages resulting from individuals acting in excess of the scope of permissible access and conduct granted them”.

HB 405 has become known as the “ag gag” bill because the opponents of this bill believe it will punish “whistle blowers” in exposing cases of animal cruelty in facilities such as poultry farms where past cases of undercover filming has taken place.  Videos have been taken of workers abusing birds.  “HB 405 has a “right of action” portion that would allow for the recovery of damages from any person, including an employee, who enters the non-public areas of an employer’s premises to capture data, paper, records or any other breach without authorization. This would include placing unattended cameras or electronic surveillance devices on the premises without authorization.”

While most citizens agree animal abuse has no place in any setting, backers of this bill have a desire to protect businesses  from employee and others stealing information or exposing trade secrets and work practices.  The North Carolina Animal Agriculture Coalition, represents over 79,000 jobs and over $17 billion.  But McCrory had other pressures.

A campaign was mounted by animal rights activists including celebrities weighing in with names like Martha Stewart, Andie McDowell, Leilani Munter, and someone named Kesha, were putting the thumb on Governor Pat to veto this bill, which is exactly what he did.

These “ag gag” laws are nothing new and at least two states are being legally challenged currently.  The bill extends to industries beyond agriculture.   The bill states, “Any person who intentionally gains access to the nonpublic areas of another’s premises and engages in an act that exceeds the person’s authority to enter those areas is liable to the owner or operator of the premises for any damages sustained. For the purposes of this section, “nonpublic areas” shall mean those areas not accessible to or not intended to be accessed by the general public”  There is no mention of any one industry or service and the focus of this bill, as worded, is  to protect business privacy and for recovery of damages.  The NC House will reconsider HB405 along with SB2 tomorrow, June 3rd at 2:00 pm.  SB2 has cleared the Senate and needs three-fifths majority from the house to become law.

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