Update Nov. 30, 2010: PA Gov. Ed Rendell has now signed S.B. 906 into law.
The bill previously passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a unanimous vote.
The Senate also passed the measure by a wide margin, 32-16.
The new law allows factory farms, research facilities and other areas where there is "agricultural activity" to be designated as "biosecurity areas" where trespassers who so much as "damage" a plant, could be prosecuted for committing a misdemeanor in the first degree.
To obtain the designation, the owner would simply demonstrate there are in place procedures to "inhibit" the spread of disease or hazardous substances, something just about every farm and agricultural facility would have. A notice must then be posted.
The bill talks of "ecoterrorism", frightening Pennsylvanians into making simple trespass a terrorist act. The bill is, of course, the state’s version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, passed by Congress in 2006 quickly and without debate with barely a quorum of members present for the final vote.
Pennsylvania’s version is limited to agricultural operations, but the goal is to stamp down on undercover investigations or protests against animal cruelty in factory farms, slaughter facilities, research labs, and perhaps even puppy mills, broadly condemning a simple trespass for these activities as a terrorist act.
The effect of such a law would be to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights in working to stop animal cruelty.
Humane Society of Berks County agent, Karel Minor, stated "the vague language included in the bill is more likely to be applied to me as a State trained and sworn Humane Society Police Officer (HSPO) than it will to Osama bin Laden. And this designation is pretty serious stuff. Somewhere right now a government computer is reading the words in my opening paragraph and flagging them. All because I’m discussing a bill that will be used primarily to protect puppy millers and bad farmers from appropriate prosecution or from damning video exposes."