The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Civil Liberties Union promptly issued news releases to hail Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill requiring anyone making a photo or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.
Here they are:
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(May 13, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248/HB 1191, after hearing from thousands of Tennesseans urging the veto and a report deeming the bill constitutionally suspect by the Tennessee Attorney General.
Animal protection groups, First Amendment advocates and newspaper editorial boards across Tennessee opposed the bill, which would criminalize undercover investigations at agribusiness operations and stables. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several Tennessee celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013. The bill also received national criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to discuss the issue.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, added: “It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it. We are grateful to Governor Haslam for hearing the clear voice of Tennesseans and ending this debate so emphatically.”
In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Gov. Haslam had said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so….Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”
In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and burned with caustic chemicals. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light had SB 1248/HB 1191 been enacted.
The HSUS placed a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean that includes quotes from ten Tennessee newspapers editorializing against SB1248.
Pacelle sent a letter to Gov. Haslam stating that if SB1248 is signed into law, “it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
The HSUS and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a television commercial at the state capitol showing footage from the undercover investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry and calling on the governor to veto SB1248.
Of the 11 states that have introduced such ag-gag legislation in 2013, none have passed it.
News release from American Civil Liberties Union:
NASHVILLE -The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee applauds Governor Bill Haslam’s decision to veto Tennessee’s “Ag Gag” legislation, SB 1248/HB 1191, which would have unconstitutionally chilled the free speech of citizens and journalists seeking to expose animal cruelty.
SB 1248/HB 1191 would have required that anyone taking photographs and video recordings of livestock abuse turn these over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face criminal charges and fines.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. recently released an opinion stating that this legislation was “constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment.”
The ACLU collected more than 34,000 petition signatures online urging the governor to veto this legislation.
The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:
“This legislation would have criminalized individuals, including journalists, seeking to document and expose animal cruelty, violating their First Amendment rights,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “Governor Haslam’s veto of Tennessee’s ‘Ag Gag’ legislation is a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Tennessee.”
News release from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
NEW YORK–The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is hailing today’s decision by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto Senate Bill (SB) 1248/House Bill (HB) 1191 as a victory for animal welfare and consumer safety. If signed into law, this dangerous anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation would have suppressed whistleblowers and protected animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment.
“SB 1248/HB 1191 would have had disastrous results for Tennessee’s animals by providing protections for those who would harm them,” said Sherry Rout, state legislative director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Southern region, and Tennessee resident. “We thank Governor Haslam for listening to the citizens of Tennessee and preventing this harmful and unnecessary bill from becoming law.”
This legislation would have suppressed whistleblower investigations on farms, which have been extremely successful in documenting the inhumane treatment of animals, uncovering crucial health and welfare information, and spurring many groundbreaking reforms. If this bill had become law, these types of investigations–such as the one last year that revealed the gruesome practice of beating and soring Tennessee Walking Horses–would have remained hidden from the public.
“This bill would have placed a veil over animal welfare and food safety in the state and suppressed whistleblowers from exposing potential harms,” added Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. “We hope the action taken today by Governor Haslam will encourage industry to directs its energy toward achieving accountability for those who are inflicting abuse on animals and putting consumers at risk, rather than coming up with creative ways to cover up these problems.”
SB 1248 was introduced in February by Senator Dolores Gresham. A companion bill in the House, HB 1191 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt, was also introduced in February. Last week, Tennessee’s Attorney General called the legislation “constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment on three grounds,” and also stated that the bill could violate a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In a 2012 nationwide poll commissioned by the ASPCA, it was revealed that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent oppose making such efforts illegal. Additionally, 94 percent of Americans feel that it is important to have measures in place to ensure that food coming from farm animals is safe for people to eat, and 94 percent agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty.
In addition to Tennessee, anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation has been introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming. No bills have been successful. The ASPCA is working to oppose these bills in all the states where they have been proposed. In addition, a multitude of national groups representing a wide array of public interests have joined animal welfare organizations in opposing this type of legislation.