Subscribe

N.C. lawmakers override 'ag-gag' bill veto: Will law silence whistle-blowers?

Unlike so-called ag-gag laws in other states, which are designed to protect the agricultural industry from covert investigations, North Carolina's law applies to all industries in the state.

  • close
    A farm tool sits on a fencepost by the garden in Old Fort, North Carolina, May 18, 2010.
    Taylor Weidman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

On Wednesday, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to override GOP Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that grants the state’s employers the right to take legal action against people who steal company secrets or covertly record alleged malpractice at farms or factories. The law will take effect in January 2016.

The bill is similar to other so-called ag-gag laws around the country that allow companies to sue people who record wrongdoing on farms and agricultural land, except this bill encompasses more than just the agricultural industry. Other states with such legislation include Idaho, Kansas, and Montana.

Supporters of the bill, pointing to incidents in which activists surreptitiously document conditions at businesses, say it protects such businesses from bad actors and protects private property rights. Opponents say the bill criminalizes whistle-blowers and infringes on journalists’ ability to report wrongdoing. 

“While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity. I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities,” Governor McCrory said after vetoing the bill.

The new law will allow an employer to sue and receive monetary damages from someone who gains access to nonpublic areas of a company without authorization and sets up a camera or audio recorder. Some of the civil damages could include $5,000 penalties for each day the law is violated.

Supporters of the bill have argued that whistle-blowers, including “legitimate employees,” would still be protected under the legislation.

"This bill allows legitimate employees to report illegal activity or workplace practices," state Rep. John Szoka (R), the bill's chief sponsor, said during the House debate, the Associated Press reported.

"There's no wording in this bill to eliminate that."

Recommended: The new ethics of eating

But opponents say this interpretation of the bill is misleading and that the whistle-blower protections included in the bill are too narrow.

The bill “is unlike [ag-gag] bills across the country in that it is more far reaching and will silence whistle-blowers in any industry. It would prohibit uncovering cruelty, not just to animals on farms, but also to elders, to children at day care, to veterans, to all of the most vulnerable members of our society. In this sense, it’s much more far reaching and much more dangerous,” says Chloe Waterman, senior manager of government relations at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), one of the nongovernmental organizations that fought the measure. 

“That is very vague language [in the bill], and that includes any employee, regardless of what their intent was at the time that they apply for the job,” Ms. Waterman says.

State Rep. Mickey Michaux (D) says the bill could also compromise the media's ability to report wrongdoing.

According to those who have analyzed the bill, it’s unclear whether a journalist could be liable if a worker reports malpractice to him or her. This is one of the bill’s components that opponents say should be modified.

In response to the criticism, some of the bill’s supporters have acknowledged that aspects of the bill may need to change.

"Some tweaking of this may well be in order," state Rep. John Blust (R) told a local CBS affiliate.

Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the Republican governor’s veto, while most GOP lawmakers voted to override it. The margins in each chamber – 79 to 36 in the House and 33 to 15 in the Senate – were above the three-fifths majority required to override the veto.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK