Sunday, August 24, 2008

Animal researcher protection bill passes state Senate

A bill to shield academic researchers from harassment by animal rights groups and others who oppose their work passed the state Senate on Friday.

The Researcher Protect Act, submitted after a home invasion attempt at the home of a UC Santa Cruz scientist who uses mice in cancer studies, would make it a misdemeanor to publish the personal information or photographs of researchers with the intent to threaten or harm them or their families.

The bill also provides protection against trespassing on residential property with the intent to thwart the work of researchers. UC sponsored the bill, and it was carried by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, whose district includes numerous commercial research laboratories not covered by the bill.

"Increasingly, the potential for innovative thought and new medical therapies is jeopardized by threats aimed at researchers and their families," Mullin said in a statement Friday. "We need to send a message that violence or serious threats of violence are never the answer."

The bill passed 29-0, with voting halted once the measure had received the required number of ayes.

"Naturally, we are very pleased, and we appreciate such strong bipartisan support from the Senate on what we view as a very important public safety issue," said Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for the UC president's office

Mullin said the Internet has provided animal rights activists new ways of gathering and Advertisementdisseminating the personal information of researchers, including their home addresses and home phone numbers. Mullin worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, which took a neutral stand on the bill, to ensure it did not curtail the freedom of expression to allege animal rights abuse — as long as there is no intent to harm workers.

Mullin proposed the bill after masked demonstrators shook the door of a researcher who was hosting a child's birthday party. When the researcher's husband confronted the group, he was hit on the arm, police said.

Three weeks ago, the homes of UC Santa Cruz scientists were targeted by firebombs. One family fled the early-morning attack via a second-floor fire escape; another's vehicle was destroyed. Other researchers at Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UCLA also have reported vandalism and trespassing incidents.

The bill must be passed by the Assembly before moving to the governor's desk.

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