By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The sponsor of a bill seeking to attract horse slaughter facilities said the bill likely will not pass this year.
Rep. Andy Holt said that chances were not good for the bill to pass, but he remained committed to bringing the industry to Tennessee.
The Senate version of the bill was taken off notice last week and Holt took it off the schedule for the House floor on Monday. He said an amendment that would require hefty deposits for anyone to mount a legal challenge to the facilities was removed from the bill, but he was also working on adding animal treatment guidelines.
“I am not into rushing stuff through,” he said. “We want to make sure all the interested parties have a chance to express their grievances with these bills.”
Holt said he wants to add protections for the horses and horse owners.
“The amendment we are working on right now actually sets up guidelines for animal treatment and for the procurement of these animals,” he said.
Holt, a Dresden Republican, has said his bill would create a humane way to cope with unwanted horses that are sometimes left to starve. But Democratic Rep. Janis Sontany of Nashville said slaughterhouses are seeking a different population of horses.
“They don’t want old or sick horses for slaughter,” she said. “They want healthy horses.”
State lawmakers named the Tennessee Walking Horse the official “state horse” in 2000. Several attempts to pass horse slaughter bills have failed in the intervening years, including one effort that drew criticism from Willie Nelson, the singer of “Beer for My Horses.” The performer has lobbied for banning domestic horse slaughter and the export of horses to other countries to be killed.
Holt last week delayed consideration of the measure following an opinion from the state Attorney General Bob Cooper that the measure could be unconstitutional because it would require hefty deposits for anyone seeking to mount a legal challenge.
Cooper said requiring a bond equal to 20 percent of the worth of the facility would conflict with state constitutional provisions forbidding “unreasonable and arbitrary barriers” to using the courts to settle disputes.
Horse slaughter was effectively blocked in 2006 after Congress withheld funds for USDA inspections of horse meat plants. But that ban was quietly lifted late last year, once again opening the way for horses to be butchered in the United States.
About 138,000 horses were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That was nearly the same number killed in the U.S. before the ban took effect in 2007. The U.S. has an estimated 9 million horses.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said he fears that the bill pending in the Legislature would make Tennessee too attractive to horse slaughter facilities.
“The way this thing is structured, it would make horse slaughter plants in other states move to Tennessee, and this would become the horse slaughter capital of the world,” Turner said. “And I don’t think that’s something we ought to be noted for.”