UC Berkeley Web Feature
Governor signs bill to protect academic researchers from harassment
BERKELEY – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday (Sept. 28) signed the Researcher Protection Act of 2008, instituting new penalties for those who target the homes and families of academic researchers, in particular those who use animals in their research.
The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes it a misdemeanor to trespass on the home property of an academic researcher "for the purpose of chilling, preventing the exercise of, or interfering with the researcher's academic freedom."
It also establishes a new misdemeanor offense for anyone who publishes personal information about a researcher, or his or her family, in order to encourage others to commit violent acts or threaten violence against them. The bill authorizes a researcher to seek a preliminary injunction against publishing such information.
In arguing for the legislation, Assembly Bill 2296, the university maintained that it would fill gaps in federal prosecution of animal rights extremists under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
"The work of our faculty and student researchers is dedicated to improving the lives and well-being of people and animals worldwide and is undertaken following strict campus and federal protocols to ensure that when animals must be used in research, the highest standards of care and ethical treatment are followed," UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau wrote in a Sept. 22 letter to the governor.
Noting that nearly all medical advancements over the last century have relied on the use of animals in some way, Birgeneau wrote, "We cannot allow significant scientific discoveries and medical breakthroughs to be disrupted by the actions of extremists who show no regard for human life."
A California law complementary to federal regulations would "facilitate prosecution of offenses that may not rise to the level of federal prosecution," UC President Mark G. Yudof wrote in an Aug. 26 letter to Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco), sponsor of the bill.
"We believe it is of critical importance that meritorious and humane research involving he use of animals can take place without threat of violence to researchers and their families," Yudof wrote. "This legislation is an important step toward preventing increasingly threatening and destructive tactics employed by extreme animal rights activists, without jeopardizing legitimate and lawful expressions of free speech."
AB 2296 was passed unanimously by both the California Senate and Assembly and sent to the governor on Aug. 29. Schwarzenegger had refused to sign any bills until the state budget was passed and signed, a milestone achieved last week.