Bill would conceal names of animal researchers

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

Animal rights protesters are up in arms over a bill set to hit the Senate floor in the legislature next week that would conceal the names, personal addresses and phone numbers of animal researchers at state colleges and universities.

Harold Rose, an activist with Utah Primate Freedom, said the bill is unconstitutional and undermines basic principles of democracy.

“It’s completely ridiculous,” Rose said. “I’m amazed people are not more concerned. Something is being done with public tax dollars, and it’s been removed from all public criticism.”

Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, who is sponsoring the bill, said protesters from Utah Primate Freedom have crossed the line by harassing researchers, vandalizing their homes and signing them up for unwanted magazine subscriptions.

“The public has the right to understand what research is going on…but they don’t need to know specific information of workers,” Bell said. “Basic human dignity and decency requires that we have people in good faith pursuing legitimate research, but we shouldn’t be harassing people just because we disagree with them. But that hasn’t worked, so we have to resort to legal means.”

The bill, which passed in a Senate committee earlier this week, would modify the Government Records Access and Management Act to classify personal information of researchers who do medical or scientific research on animals at institutions of higher education as protected documents.

The legislation would not only keep information from protesters, but also from journalists or other individuals who use GRAMA. Bell said such individuals would have to appeal to the GRAMA committee for the information.

U President Michael Young, who supports the bill, said the law is designed not to discourage people from protesting, but to protect the physical safety of those engaged in research supported by the university.

He said the bill would not be a slippery slope limiting access to information.

“There’s a very little appetite for dramatic curtailment of rights,” Young said. “This law is a very modest way of ensuring protesters themselves stay within bounds of law.”

Young said there has been “significant vandalism” to researchers’ homes and that protesters have made it hard for them to get in and out of their driveways. In one situation, Young said protesters accosted a pregnant U researcher every time she tried to leave her home.

“We have been lucky so far that the physical security of researchers has not been compromised, but there have been universities around (the) country where that has (happened),” Young said.

He said the bill is necessary because it is more sound than nuisance laws, which sometimes allow police officers discretion over what they consider a nuisance.

Rose said his organization has not caused any harm to researchers, although they have been under fire for demonstrating in front of U researchers’ homes. The Salt Lake County Council passed an ordinance Jan. 29 requiring picketers to stand at least 100 feet away from these homes.

Rose said neither the ordinance nor the legislation will stop them from demonstrating because they can still get names and contact information from published documents and research.

“Unless they effectively stop all outside communication…this is a completely pointless bill,” Rose said.

He said he believes that the public is entitled to know about the state sponsored research for which it is paying in tax dollars. If the law passes, he said the group plans to challenge it in court.

Young said the bill would not hide research.

“There’s nothing that will prevent you from knowing (the) nature of research,” Young said. “What you won’t be able to do is see the name of (a) researcher and the address of their personal home-you’ll still know where the labs are.”

Young said he believes animal research work is “deeply humanitarian” and helps humans better understand diseases.

Rose said there is no scientific evidence that these experiments have advanced medicine or science in any way that relates to humans.

“If you look at the horrors they’re inflicting on these animals, you clearly see the cost outweighs any potential benefits,” Rose said. “Especially when there are no proven benefits.”

Young said this case of speech is a “security concern.”

“It’s a challenge (to determine) how one balances the right of people to protest, which we firmly and lovingly believe in, consistent with the rights of people for peaceful existence and to engage in work that really is fundamentally extremely important to advance science,” Young said.

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