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'Ag-gag' bill goes to governor

Posted May 18, 2015

— State lawmakers gave final approval Monday night to a measure that would allow business owners to sue employees who conduct undercover investigations.

House Bill 405, the "Property Protection Act," now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory.

The bill would allow a business or property owner to seek damages against any employee who intentionally enters an unauthorized area of that business or property to record video or sound.

Backers of the proposal say it will protect business owners from rivals or activist groups that may send in members to be hired and work undercover with the intent of stealing information or exposing workplace practices.

Animal rights organizations say it's an "ag-gag" bill – that is, it's specifically intended to prevent undercover operations at agriculture facilities such as poultry farms. Several such operations in North Carolina in recent years have produced video of workers abusing animals.

However, the final version of the legislation is not limited to agriculture. It would apply to any employee in any place of business.

Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said it "does not touch whistleblower laws." But critics of the bill, including Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, argue it will ultimately harm the public.

Stein pointed out that North Carolina's whistleblower laws protect employees only in matters of employee rights, such as wages, workers' compensation and worksite health and safety rules.

"Our whistleblower law does nothing for an employee who brings forth a violation of the law that affects the general public," he said, using the example of a bona fide worker at a drug compounding lab who might find his employer using out-of-date drugs but would become civilly liable if he were to take a picture of the expired drug label.

"We should not be going so far," he cautioned. "The public will be worse off as a result of this bill. There will be violations of law that will occur that would not occur because of this bill."

Stein tried to amend the bill to allow employees a defense if what they recorded was illegal activity, but Senate Republicans would not allow the amendment to be voted on.

Jackson insisted that Stein had misread the bill.

"This has to do with employees going to places they’re not allowed to go," he said. "As long as they’re allowed to move in those facilities, they wouldn’t be liable."

Jackson also said the employee in such a case could turn over any evidence of a crime to "authorities."

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the proposal "sets the pendulum to the middle and allows property owners to have the same rights as someone else. Without this bill, it's skewed in the wrong direction."

The final vote was 32-13.

36 Comments

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  • James Hawk May 20, 2015
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    I have had cops come in my house without my consent, because they said they had a tip from telephone call that I was dealing drugs. Yeah, ok did you find anything? No but you still forced your way past me into my home. They and the people with money do what they want because people like you vote them in. They have no regard for common citizens if you are not important, or unless you have deep pockets and can help them in some way. GOP=Gains Before People!!!

  • James Hawk May 20, 2015
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    I have no problem with that. Do you have something to hide?

  • Terry Watts May 19, 2015
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    So employees should ignore the law while at work since that may conflict with the "interest" of the employer.

  • Bobby Correct May 19, 2015
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    Yes, while working, but not while really working for some other interest. That is what this bill is intended for.

  • Bobby Correct May 19, 2015
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    Again, it works the same way for you as for law enforcement. If you see it from where you've been invited, fair game. If you start digging their yard with a backhoe, I think not. Same if a LEO sees a gun during a normal traffic stop vs. unlawful search.

  • Terry Watts May 19, 2015
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    There is an interesting article in Salon (yes that liberal rag) about the Pork Industry in NC... Just be glad you don't live down-east...

    http://www.salon.com/2015/05/17/hog_manures_disgusting_king_how_corporate_pig_production_made_north_carolina_nasty/

  • Anthony Snark May 19, 2015
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    Should an employee be protected for reporting violations of laws that they observe while working? Yes definitely.

  • Nicolle Leney May 19, 2015
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    If I have a guest over and they see me burying a body in the backyard, and so they snap a picture and call the cops, should I be "protected"? For the sake of the dead body, I hope not. The person has documented proof, so the police should at least have a right to look into it. THAT would be a proper apples to apples comparison.

  • Bobby Correct May 19, 2015
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    So if you hire me, I should be able to disclose anything I can find at your workplace (even if I use your computer while you're at lunch).

  • Bobby Correct May 19, 2015
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    We have laws that protect us from unlawful searches by authorities. If you are OK with those, you should see that this is the same thing. Are you OK with police searching your home or business at will and if they find any violations, just charge you? How about you loan your car to an employee and they download GPS or speed data and the state sends you a violation? See where this is headed. You can still be a whistle blower if you are exposed to violations, but you just can't go trying to find whatever you can dig up.

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