Humane Tennessee PAC has issued a “scorecard” for state legislators based on their “support and promotion of animal welfare legislation.”
The ratings are based on votes involving six bills — three the PAC supported and three it opposed — with extra points added or subtracted for other activities.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, for example, got extra points for holding a news conference to denounce the so-called “ag gag” bill that the group opposed.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lowest rated legislators were the sponsors of that bill, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. The measure, which required anyone making pictures or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities promptly, passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Joining them on the “paws down” list were Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport and Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
Ranking high on the list were Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, sponsors of a bill increasing the penalty for cockfighting. The Humane PAC supported the bill, which was killed in a Senate floor vote with Niceley leading the verbal opposition.
Besides them and Johnson, others given high ratings were Reps. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet; Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; and Curry Todd, R-Collierville, along with Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; and Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
The PAC was established in late 2010 and, insofar as donating to campaigns goes, has not been very active. It has given just $3,500 to candidates since being created — including $1,000 to Ketron and $500 to Lundberg — and had a balance of $1,214 in its last report, according to the Registry of Election Finance.
As part of a lengthy review of the “tricky” politics of the so-called “ag gag bill,” Andrea Zelinski includes a rundown on sponsor Rep. Andy Holt’s ‘shaky’ dealings with TDEC permits on his hog farm. While Holt is pushing hard for these new rules on farm animals, he has a shaky history of following other regulations on own hog farm in West Tennessee.
Since 2009, the state has repeatedly found Rep. Andy Holt’s 1,400-hog farming operation out of compliance with regulations set by two state agencies, according to a review of records by The City Paper, such as operating without a valid permit and failing to submit certain manure quality tests to state officials.
The latest notice came April 30 from the Department of Agriculture, giving him a 30-day window to complete his application for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permit, known as a CAFO. His last permit expired in August of 2009.
“Operating your CAFO without a permit is a violation of state, and possibly federal rules,” read the letter by Sam Marshall from the Department of Agriculture’s Water Resources division.
While the Department of Environment and Conservation has sent Holt two violation notices and three letters urging him to get a permit and warning him against dumping hazardous waste, the department has not leveled civil penalties against the lawmaker, according to TDEC.
“There are a number of operators in the same position as Mr. Holt,” said Shannon Ashford, a TDEC spokeswoman. “It is not that the operators have ignored the process. They made submittals that did not meet the requirements of the regulations. If the deficiencies are not corrected, the department will consider enforcement action.”
Holt’s farm includes contract swine owned by Tosh Farms, which are then sold to a packer, according to the Holt Family Farms website. His operation also includes a cow calf operation and a goat herd, sells brown eggs and includes a pumpkin patch for school and group visits.
Since his permit expired, TDEC has sent Holt several notifications that his permit was incomplete and reminded him he was banned from dumping hazardous waste “under any circumstance” without the proper permit.
“We’re in the process of applying here for a permit, and we’ll finish that sometime here very soon,” said Holt, who added acquiring other farms and testing and analyzing materials has slowed his application down. “There’s several things that take some time. It’s our intention to be law abiding. That’s the purpose.”
…Regardless of him running behind on regulations on his farm, Holt said the attention needs to be on getting livestock abuse reported quickly.
“Sometimes their investigations, which have taken weeks or months to complete, have left several animals in a horrible situation,” said Holt, who the Weakley County sheriff’s office has said has been subject to no animal abuse complaints. “Nowhere along the way does it say that you have to come in with 30 counts to indict an individual.
“I’ll always lose the emotional issue if folks don’t use logic associated with that emotion.”
The Senate has approved, 22-9, legislation that requires anyone filming livestock abuse to turn over all “unedited photographs, digital images or video” to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.
Proponents say the bill (SB1248) is aimed at stopping animal abuse promptly. Critics said it actually protects animal abusers by targeting only those make photographs or video.
The measure is scheduled for a House floor vote today.
In Senate debate Tuesday, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, cited abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses recorded on video by the Humane Society of the United States as illustrating the need for legislation. The HSUS video led to successful prosecution for abuse of the animals, but Bell said the animals themselves suffered.
“They sat on it (the video) for four months… then released it at an opportune time for them,” said Bell, suggesting the recording was to “benefit fundraising” by HSUS. “They had no concern for that (abused) horse.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, noted that if HSUS had “sat on the film forever” the proposed new law would never have come into play and the abuse would have continued.
“You’re criminalizing the film-making, not the abuse,” said Norris. “That puts the lie to the assertion that it’s the abuse you’re concerned with.”
The bill makes it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine of up to $500 but no jail time, to fail to turn over all recordings of livestock abuse to a law enforcement authority.
Norris proposed an amendment that would have required anyone having knowledge of animal abuse to report it to authorities as well. He said that would “get to the root of the problem” by targeting the abuse, not the photographing of the abuse.
Sponsor Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, opposed Norris’ revision, saying it would “make every person who ever saw or observed what they might think animal unreasonably treated, a criminal if don’t turn in.” Norris’ amendment was then tabled, or killed, on a 17-10 vote.
The bill was also debated Wednesday in the House Calendar Committee, where Rep. Jon Lundberg, D-Bristol, tried to have it sent back to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs, for further hearings.
Lundberg said he believes the bill infringes on First Amendment rights, but his motion was killed with only seven committee members voting for it while 12 opposed. Critics of the bill said amendments may also be filed for today’s House vote.
Legislators out to stop what they see as “vigilante” attacks on the livestock industry are pushing for enactment of a bill that critics see as an attack on constitutional freedom of speech.
The bill (SB1248) would require anyone observing abuse of livestock to promptly turn over all “unedited photographs, digital images or video” related to the abuse to law enforcement authorities. Under the current Senate version, this would have to occur within 48 hours of when the recording was made or, if the recording was made on a weekend, on the next weekday.
Violators would be guilty of a “class C” misdemeanor, penalized by a maximum fine of $500.
“This is a Catch-22 bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, when the proposal (SB1248) came up on the Senate floor last week, referring to the Joseph Heller novel on a paradoxical situation.
A House panel has approved a bill that requires people making undercover videos of livestock operations to turn an unedited copy over to law enforcement officers within 24 hours.
Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said that “radical animal activist groups” have taken “months and months” of video recordings as abuse continues. Passage of his bill (HB1191) would protect both the state’s livestock industry and abused animals, he said.
An amendment was suggested to the measure that would exclude media from the bill’s requirement that unedited video, if made without permission of animal owners or those recorded, be turned over to law enforcement officers within 24 hours. In an interview, Holt said he was concerned that animal activists would simply call themselves media to avoid the proposed law.
Under the proposal, violations would be a misdemeanor crime, though punishable only a fine and not jail time.
Holt said that requiring video to be turned over to police was no different than current law requiring reporting of child abuse to authorities.
The bill was approved on voice vote of the House Agriculture Subcommittee and will be before the full Agriculture Committee next week. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, said he expects further consideration on the media exemption amendment then.
Last year, the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer abusing horses to accentuate their performance of what is known as a “high leg kick.” The video led to penalties being imposed against the trainer and others.gs before making them public.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — An undercover video that showed California cows struggling to stand as they were prodded to slaughter by forklifts led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant’s closure and criminal convictions.
Now in a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators across the country are introducing laws making it harder for animal welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food safety cases.
Some bills make it illegal to take photographs at a farming operation. Others make it a crime for someone such as an animal welfare advocate to lie on an application to get a job at a plant.
Bills pending in California, Nebraska and Tennessee require that anyone collecting evidence of abuse turn it over to law enforcement within 24 to 48 hours — which advocates say does not allow enough time to document illegal activity under federal humane handling and food safety laws.
(Note: In Tennessee, the reference is to HB1191, sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. Holt has it on notice for Wednesday in the House Agriculture Subcommittee, according to the legislative website.)
Former state Sen. Andy Berke won election as mayor of Chattanooga in Tuesday’s city elections with an overwhelmingly margin over opponents Robert Chester Heathington Jr. and Guy Satterfield, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “The time for renewal is now,” Berke told a cheering crowd of more than 200 people in the Waterhouse Pavilion at Miller Plaza.
Voter turnout was anemic, at just 16 percent, Hamilton County Election Commission records show. Of the 111,324 registered voters in the city, 18,194 ballots were cast.
Berke won 72 percent of the vote. Satterfield received 24 percent and Heathington recorded 3.7 percent of the vote. All vote totals are unofficial until provisional ballots are counted.
Once in office, Berke will make $146,607 annually and will serve a four-year term. He will oversee a $210 million budget to serve a city of 170,000 people.
Berke announced last May that he would run for the city’s top elected seat. Since that time, he raised more than $670,000, the most for a mayoral candidate in Chattanooga history.
Tennessee legislators have been fighting over cockfighting for decades and, as with many morality matters in our state and elsewhere, the squawking boils down to whether traditional values or emerging values prevail in the pecking order of our collective consciousness.
That collective consciousness, of course, is reflected in the people we elect as our state representatives and senators, and what they can agree upon without ruffling too many feathers. It does not involve a question of which came first, as with the chicken or the egg.
The traditionalists came first. Andrew Jackson raised fighting roosters. He also had slaves. There’s an obvious and monumental difference, of course: human beings versus animals. The fate of chickens is irrelevant, inconsequential trivia in comparison to slavery.
And remember that Andy Jackson relied upon a well-armed state militia, composed of citizens with a right to bear arms, in defeating the Creek Indians and, later, the British at New Orleans. In that respect, his traditional view prevails somewhat today in our state’s collective consciousness as reflected by our pro-gun Legislature.
But, well, cockfighting is a matter of debate. Maybe as high up there as such major controversies as whether wine can be sold in grocery stores or whether guns can be kept in cars, just to pluck a couple of issues from among many wherein lobbyists are spurred into what passes these days for mortal combat in Legislatorland.
The 2013 version of legislation to increase penalties for cockfighting in Tennessee on Wednesday cleared a House subcommittee where it has died in previous years – though not without opposition.
Under the bill by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, cockfighting would remain a misdemeanor on first offense, but the minimum fine would increase from $50 to $500. On second offense, cockfighting would be a felony punishable by one to six years in prison.
Last year’s version called for a felony classification on first offense and set the minimum fine at $2,500. The measure cleared a Senate committee, but died in the House Agriculture Subcommittee.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee, with a somewhat changed makeup from the previous legislative session, approved the bill on voice vote Wednesday. Two members, Republican Reps. Andy Holt of Dresden and Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, had themselves recorded as voting no. (Note/Update: Also, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, voted no — though he had not been listed as doing so when the roll call was initially checked.)
Matheny said “a lot of people in my area – I don’t know that they’re cockfighting – raise roosters” and that he generally believes the Legislature “has better things to worry about than what to do with the lowly chicken.”
In the race for Chattanooga mayor, reports the Times-Free Press, former state Sen. Andy Berke has some things in his favor: $674,000, 300 volunteers, four paid staff and wealthy donors. His opponents are working with notably less. Former city employee Guy Satterfield has only spent $1,800 so far, all his own money. He doesn’t command dozens of helpers or host fundraising parties.
“If there’s a sign out, I put it there,” Satterfield said. “If there’s a door hanger, I put it there.”
Still, Satterfield and frequent candidate Robert Chester Heathington Jr. said the end of the campaign is unwritten and their runs shouldn’t be dismissed.
“The election’s going to be an upset,” Heathington said Friday. “A real big upset.”