Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s been learning from both sides about a so-called “ag gag bill” since it was passed by the Legislature two weeks ago, but it hasn’t reached his desk yet and he hasn’t decided whether or not a veto is in order.
The bill has generated thousands of emails, telephone calls and letters to the governor’s office – more than on any legislation that has come up during Haslam’s term as governor – and most have been calling for a veto, a gubernatorial spokesman says.
The Humane Society of the United States has organized a campaign against the bill, including TV ads urging people to contact Haslam and urge a veto. Celebrities including TV host Ellen DeGeneres and country music singer Carrie Underwood have also pushed a veto.
Haslam said he would not simply “tally results” before making his decision.
“Obviously, we value everyone’s opinion. But we’re trying to go beyond that and find the argument,” he said.
The measure (SB1248) requires anyone who makes a picture or video showing livestock abuse to turn over copies to law enforcement officers within 48 hours. Those failing to do so would be guilty of a misdemeanor crime and subject to a $500 fine.
“At the end of the day, we come back to: Is it good policy? Is it constitutional? Is it something we think will actually help the welfare of animals and livestock?”
Haslam said his staff is reviewing “constitutional issues that might be involved.” Critics have said the bill could conflict with freedom of the press by requiring media involvement with law enforcement. But he also said “the majority (of legislators) who voted for it” had that information and he is listening to those involved in the livestock industry.
“There are a lot of agriculture people who feel like this isn’t just about people who mistreat animals; this is really about people who really aren’t fans of cattle growers and other livestock producers,” he said.
The bill got final legislative approval April 17 and the General Assembly adjourned April 20. The Legislature’s website indicates it had gone through staff processing by April 23 and has since been waiting for House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to affix their signatures.
A spokeswoman for Harwell, said Tuesday “a whole batch of bills” passed late in the session are still awaiting signatures of the speakers, who both plan to be in their offices to sign them “sometime this week.” Since the bill passed the Senate first, protocol calls for Ramsey being the first speaker to sign it. A Ramsey spokesman said about 100 bills are “in the same posture” and the situation was not unusual, noting the bill by its own terms would not take effect until July 1.
Once it reaches the governor’s desk, he has 10 days – not including Sundays – to either sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Should he veto the measure, legislators would have to wait until January to consider overriding the veto.
In the previous years, Haslam has let two bills become law without his signature – one limiting the number of foreign workers who can be employed at charter schools and the other protecting teachers from discipline if they question scientific theories such as evolution and climate change.
He has vetoed one bill, a measure aimed at ending a Vanderbilt University policy that requires campus organizations to admit “all comers,” even in in the case of students disputing the group’s beliefs – as in one controversial case where an atheist sought membership in a Christian group.
Ramsey voted for the bill. Harwell did not vote one way or the other.