In response to a string of increasingly vicious anti-animal research attacks on University of California employees, the California State Assembly has passed legislation to legally shelter UC researchers from future harassment.

The UC-backed Assembly Bill 2296, referred to as the Researcher Protection Act of 2008, was unanimously approved late last month by a bipartisan vote of 78-0 and currently awaits final approval from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

UC support for the legislation arose from a surge in campus-wide reports of anti-science threats and intimidation, as well as acts of violence targeting UC researchers and their families. Recent attacks include the Aug. 2 fire bombings of two UC Santa Cruz faculty members’ residences, as well as over 20 reports of animal rights related vandalism inflicted on UC Berkeley researchers’ homes over the past year.

Concern for researchers’ safety made headlines again on Aug. 27, when authorities raided a community cooperative, near UC Berkeley after tracing a series of threatening emails to an IP address in the co-op, a social activist hangout.

According to The Daily Californian, a UCPD affidavit revealed an anonymous email received by a professor which read: “Do you think that I’m fucking around you waste of life I know where you work where you live where you shop I even know your credit card number and even what Netflix movies you watch.” The email included an ultimatum to “STOP TORTURING ANIMALS OR THINGS GET UGLY.”

Armed with a search warrant, UCPD and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force seized 15 computers and various data storage devices from the cooperative in order to extract forensic evidence necessary to identify those individuals behind the harassment.

The UC began fervently advocating on behalf of legislative measures to combat such attacks against researchers earlier this year.

“Acts of violence against University of California faculty and staff by animal rights extremists not only continue, but appear to be escalating in frequency and severity,” read a formal statement issued by the UC. “UC personnel continue to be targets of arson, bombings, vandalism, intimidation, harassment and other similar acts, both at work and at home. … The University will not tolerate such acts of violence and harassment.”

If passed into law, the bill will provide the UC with increased legal avenues for both the protection of UC researchers and prosecution of anti-animal research extremists.

Specifically, the bill enacts narrower language to deny individuals who threaten or intimidate ‘academic researchers’ immunity under the First Amendment and declares any such acts unlawful violations of the researcher’s constitutional right to ‘academic freedom.’

The bill also lays down stricter trespassing laws, making it a misdemeanor to enter the residence of an ‘academic researcher’ with the intent to intimidate or to interfere with the researcher’s ‘academic freedom’ or publish information describing an ‘academic researcher’ or his or her location with the intent to commit a crime.

UC President Mark G. Yudof commended the assembly for their passage of the bill and what he called their commitment to scientific progress.

“The University of California applauds the Legislature’s passage of this legislation, which provides new tools to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against academic researchers and their families,” Yudof said in a press release. “The Legislature, led by Assembly member Mullin, has taken an important step in supporting university research that aims to enhance the health and well-being of people throughout California and around the world.”