UC Berkeley News
Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

State Senate committee passes bill to protect researchers engaged in animal research

– Following testimony today (Thursday, Aug. 14) by two University of California officials about the ongoing harassment of researchers by animal rights extremists, the state Senate Public Safety Committee passed a revised bill to criminalize such activity.

By a vote of 3-0, the committee approved AB 2296, the California Animal Enterprise Act, to make it a misdemeanor to enter "the residential real property of an academic researcher for the purpose of chilling, preventing the exercise of, or interfering with the researcher's academic freedom," or to publish information about researchers or their families with the intent that others commit a crime against them.

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Sen. Bob Margett (R-Glendora) voted for "the bill. Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Fresno) were not present. Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) also spoke in support of the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, with action possibly as early as next week. If that committee determines costs to be minimal, the bill may be sent directly to the Senate floor for a vote. AB 2296 originated in the state Assembly in April and was authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco), chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, to extend to academic researchers who use animals the same protection afforded those who work in reproductive health and who are elected and appointed officials.

In testimony today before the committee, UC Berkeley Police Sgt. Karen Alberts described the "concerted, well-orchestrated campaigns of harassment meant to intimidate and terrorize individuals, many of whom are involved in potentially life-saving research." Since August 2007, more than 30 UC Berkeley employees professors, researchers and staff members have been targeted by the extremists, with more than 70 incidents, 20 of them criminal, reported to police.

"It is time to enact legislation that gives law enforcement the tools necessary to protect researchers from the extremists who terrorize them," Alberts said. "This bill, by creating a new misdemeanor for the public posting of the personal information of researchers and a new misdemeanor for trespass, does just that."

The penalty for posting personal information for the purposes of inciting violence was set at imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. The penalty for setting foot on the property of a researcher would be the same as for trespassing. The bill defines an "academic researcher" as any person lawfully engaged in academic research who is a student, trainee or employee of the University of California, California State University, an accredited California community college, or an accredited, degree-granting, nonprofit institution of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

While harassment of UC Berkeley researchers has been persistent and frightening to researchers and their families, scientists at other UC campuses have been subjected to more severe harassment. Last week, for example, the home of one UC Santa Cruz researcher and the car of another were firebombed.

UCLA scientists also have been targeted in recent years: A firebomb scorched the front door of one scientist's home, while other firebombs were placed near homes and cars but did not explode. One researcher sustained $20,000 in damage to her property after extremists put a garden hose through her window and flooded her home while she was away.

"This campaign of violence is having a significant impact on the research community (at) universities across California and the nation," testified former UC Provost and UC Santa Cruz Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood, now a professor of nutrition at UC Davis. "In addition to the fear and harassment with which some faculty members and their families must live every day, other not yet "targeted" faculty members are hesitant to discuss research projects involving animals out of fear for their personal safety and the safety of their families. In fact, some researchers who have been targeted were unwilling to come here today to tell their stories out of the fear of reprisals and the potential danger to their families and neighbors."

At UC Berkeley, the 20 criminal incidents of home property damage that have been documented during the past year include broken windows, homes pelted by rocks and vandalized cars. Other incidents range from harassing phone calls and e-mails to loud, threatening, middle-of-the-night demonstrations by masked activists outside scientists' homes and the stalking of researchers' children.

Seven East Bay law enforcement agencies are investigating these incidents, which also have drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For more information about animal research at UC, recent incidents of violence and intimidation, and the legislation to protect academic researchers, see UC's animal research website.