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Kentucky bill limiting recording at private feeding operations, manufacturing plants close to becoming law

Flying drone, outdoor action on a defocused background. Royalty free image, no logos in the photo.
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Flying drone, outdoor action on a defocused background. Royalty free image, no logos in the photo.

Agricultural industry giants like Tyson Foods are supporting legislation that would limit recording at animal feeding operations and food manufacturing plants.

Senate Bill 16 would criminalize the operation of unmanned aircraft and recording equipment at private facilities without the written consent of the owner. A committee substitute from the House exempts government employees from punishment during official duties.

The bill’s already passed both chambers and is going back to the Senate to consider final changes.

Supporters say it would keep Kentucky’s agricultural businesses from being undermined by groups like PETA.

It would crack down on whistleblowers like nonprofit Mercy For Animals, which documented abuse towards pigs raised for slaughter in Louisville’s JBS Swift plant in 2018.

“Unauthorized drones could hinder our ability to continue business,” Tyson Foods representative Graham Hall said during a committee meeting last month. “It could put our employees in danger. It could endanger our live animals. And we have a couple of instances that this has happened before.”

Opponents say the bill could have unintended consequences that would keep workers from documenting unsafe conditions.

“I think it shows there's a lack of concern for this potential situation that could exist and for employees that find themselves in a difficult predicament,” said Rep. Al Gentry, a Democrat from Louisville.

Bill supporter Rep. Richard Heath, a Republican from Mayfield, says members of the poultry industry don’t share those concerns.

“Our members are unionized,” Heath said. “If this was a problem, we would have heard from them in the last two and a half months. And if it's a problem with the labor cabinet, we would have heard from them.”

Others like Rep. Chad Aull, a Democrat from Lexington, say the bill in its current form overreaches to penalize innocent behavior.

“I agree with the intent of this bill,” Aull said. “But the problem is the way the bill is drafted. There are some very key words – ‘and, and/or’ – that make those situations where somebody could do this by accident, or mistake and not know what they were doing.”

The bill passed the House Tuesday 72-25 without also passing proposed amendments from Gentry and Aull that would keep whistleblowing workers safe from punishment or address overreaching.

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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