California law strengthens protections for researchers

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California lawmakers have strengthened protections for academic researchers who have lately come under increasing attacks by animal rights extremists. Passage of the Researcher Protection Act follows a rash of violence, threats, and harassment targeting University of California scientists and their families.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the measure into law Sept. 28. The legislation is intended to enhance law enforcement's ability to protect academic researchers and their families from acts of violence and intimidation by anti-animal research extremists. The law took effect immediately.

Assemblyman Gene Mullin introduced the Researcher Protection Act (AB 2296) in February at the behest of the University of California. It received strong bipartisan support and passed the Assembly and the Senate in August by unanimous votes.

"Increasingly, the potential for innovative thought and new medical therapies is jeopardized by threats aimed at researchers and their families," Mullin said. "The signing of AB 2296 sends a message that California recognizes its researchers and their families need to be protected from threats of violence."

On Aug. 2, two University of California-Santa Cruz scientists were targeted in firebomb attacks. Both targets do health-related research using animals. Earlier, the home of a UC-Los Angles researcher was vandalized by animal rights extremists who left a note threatening to burn the house. A burning effigy was also left on the doorstep of another researcher's home.

AB 2296 makes it a misdemeanor offense to publish information describing or depicting academic researchers, their immediate families, or their locations with the intent that another person use the information to commit a crime involving violence or a threat of violence.

In addition, AB 2296 makes entry onto the residential property of an academic researcher for the purpose of "chilling," preventing the exercise of, or interfering with the researcher's ability to perform their academic work a misdemeanor.

"This law will provide law enforcement with some of the tools necessary to help protect academic researchers so they can continue to perform ground-breaking research without the threat of violence," said Mark G. Yudof, University of California president.