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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Sen. Jim Norman's farm photography bill makes a comeback

Sen. Jim Norman's attempt to prevent animal-rights activists from sneaking onto farms and gathering footage for videos of farming practices appeared all but dead before Wednesday.

"Farms," SB 1246, had passed just one Senate committee and still had no House companion as of Day 58 of session.

That didn't stop the Senate from discussing his idea on the floor Wednesday.

In doing so, Senate President Mike Haridopolos violated his self-imposed requirement that each bill would heard on the floor only after being vetted through three committees. The Senate Agriculture Committee was the lone committee to hear the proposal, voting for it 4-0 after making substantial changes to clarify Norman's language.

As originally written, it would have triggered a first-degree felony charge for anyone who took photos or video of a farm or its animals without the property owner's consent, including journalists, roadside admirers and law enforcement.

More changes on Wednesday allow for law enforcement, certain state agency officials, and surveyors and mappers to enter farm property without obtaining written consent ahead of time.

Changes from Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale, redefine a farm as "any tract of land cultivated for the purpose of raising crops or farming livestock...or poultry," excluding things like puppy mills.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asked Norman for reassurance that he would not be breaking the law for pulling over his car and taking pictures of, say, thoroughbreds grazing on a field in Wellington. Nope, Norman said.

In accordance with unofficial protocol for hazing a rookie member, Sens. Thad Altman and Jack Latvala offered up an amendment that would have changed the title of the bill from "Farms" to "Jim Norman Animal Paparazzi Protection Act."

The jokes appeared over. Then Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, asked if she would be breaking the law if she took pictures of a farm from behind a fence that was inside the property line.

“No,” Norman said, “you would actually have to jump the fence, which I would pay money to see.”

Joyner considered. “How much are you willing to pay?” she said, to roars and a congratulatory handshake from Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

Senators could vote on the bill Thursday. Animal-rights groups such as PETA, ASPCA and Mercy for Animals are against it.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7:21pm]


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