Country music singer Carrie Underwood is “begging” Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill requiring pictures or video of livestock abuse to be turned over the law enforcement authorities.
Known as an “ag gag bill” by critics, the measure (SB1248) was given final legislative approval by the House on a 50-43 vote Wednesday night, two days after it passed the Senate 22-9. That sends it to Haslam’s desk, though the formal transmittal process typically takes a day or two.
On Thursday, Underwood tweeted Haslam, with fans copied in:
“Please don’t sign the Ag Gag bill. Think about the welfare of the animals as well as the consumers. I’m begging you.”
Another Underwood tweet to fans: “Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who’s with me?”
David Smith, spokesman for Haslam, said the governor did not respond to Underwood’s tweet. His office has received “a couple hundred emails and calls throughout the day” on the bill, Smith said.
“He’ll review it, like he does all bills, when it gets to his desk,” said Smith.
The bill touched off a long and contentious debate on the House floor. Sponsor Rep. Andy
Holt, D-Dresden, insisted the purpose is simply to stop abuse of animals promptly and stop “people trying to game this information.”
The bill requires anyone observing abuse of livestock to turn over all photographs and video, unedited, to a law enforcement agency within 48 hours or the next business day, if the 48 hours runs over a weekend or holiday period. Those who do not turn in their pictures or video are subject to a misdemeanor criminal violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, called it “Orwellian” in making a crime out of failure to do something rather than doing something. Anyone filming a murder or rape, he noted, is not required to turn in the recording without a subpoena, he said.
Several amendments were proposed, but all defeated. Among them was an attempt by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, to increase penalties for cockfighting and an effort by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, to exempt news reporters, photographers and bloggers from the bill.
“This is bill is coercion by government of the worst kind,” said Lynn.
Holt and others have cited a Humane Society of the United States undercover video of Tennessee Walking Horse abuse last year that spanned four months and, when made public, led to convictions of the culprits. Holt says that, if his bill had been law, the video would have been turned over to law enforcement promptly and the abuse would have ended.