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California Bill Seeks To Protect Animal Researchers From Attack

This story was written by Tessa Stuart, Daily Californian

The CaliforniaState Assembly is set to hear testimonyThursday about a bill that aims to increase protection of academic researchers, including those in the University of California system, who work with animals.

If passed, the bill would make it illegal to publish the personal information, including photographs and addresses, of animal researchers and their family members with the intent to incite a violent crime.

The bill also has provisions that would make it a misdemeanor to trespass at a researcher's residence in order to intimidate or interfere with the researcher's work.

Wyatt R. Hume, UC provost and executive vice president for academic and health affairs, and UCPD Sgt. Karen Alberts from UC Berkeley are both set to testify in favor of the bill, which was introduced to the legislature in February by Assemblymember Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, at the request of the university.

Though UC Berkeley researchers have long been the targets of animal rights activists, in recent years activists have increasingly shifted the sites of their protests to researchers' homes. Seven UC Berkeley staff members and 24 campus faculty and student researchers were targeted at their homes over the last year, according to Marie Felde, UC Berkeley's director of media relations.

"People do feel threatened," Felde said.

The bill originally only included provisions that would criminalize harassment and trespassing at researchers' homes, but additional measures were added to make it unlawful to distribute researchers' personal information as well.

The attacks earlier this month on two UC Santa Cruz researchers have increased pressure from the academic community for harsher penalties on activists who threaten animal researchers.

On Aug. 2, a UC Santa Cruz biology professor and his family were forced to flee from the second floor of their home after a firebomb destroyed the front of their house; a second professor's car was firebombed outside his house the same morning.

The attacks occurred shortly after flyers were distributed at a local coffeehouse containing the addresses of a number of UC Santa Cruz researchers who work with animals.

"Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse," the fliers stated.

UC President Mark Yudof said in a statement that the bombings represented a "troubling pattern" at UC campuses in recent years, which the bill aims to address directly. The bill must pass through the Assembly Committee on Public Safety and the Assembly Appropriations Committee before it is heard on the legislature floor.

"We think the bill has been upgraded with the new provisions and we're pleased the bill in its current form is going to be heard ... (on) ... the floor of the Senate," Mullin said. "We are hopeful that we can move the bill as expeditiously as possible."

Angelica Dongallo of The Daily

Californian contributed to this report.