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.
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.”
The Humane Society of the United States, lawmakers and two media groups held a State Capitol news conference Monday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill they say would end undercover investigations of animal abuse in the state, reports Richard Locker.
In addition, HSUS began running television ads in Knoxville and Nashville on Saturday encouraging Tennesseans to contact the governor’s office to encourage a veto of what opponents call the “Ag Gag” bill passed by the legislature last week.
HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said his group is spending $100,000 on the TV ads initially. The ads are not running in Memphis, Chattanooga or elsewhere yet but the governor’s office said Monday it had received about 2,000 emails and phone calls on the issue. The governor said Friday that he’s studying the bill.
House Bill 1191/Senate Bill 1248 amends Tennessee’s cruelty to animals statutes to require a person who records, “by photograph, digital image, video or similar medium” for the purpose of documenting cruelty to livestock, to report the violation to the local law enforcement agency and submit any recordings to them within 48 hours.
Pacelle said the bill is part of a national movement to make it a crime to do the kind of undercover work that HSUS did in Fayette County in 2011 when it documented abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses at a trainer’s stable.
Pacelle also disputed statements made by the House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, that HSUS “held” its undercover recordings of the abuse for four months before reporting to law enforcement.
Pacelle said his HSUS gave recordings to federal prosecutors within two weeks after its undercover operative got a job at the trainer’s stable and, at the prosecutors’ request, the videos were not publicly released for another 13 months. By that time, trainer Jackie McConnell was already under indictment by a federal grand jury in Chattanooga.
“There were so many false statements from the House author in particular,” Pacelle said. “The investigation began in April 2011 and we began to turn information over to the United States attorney for the purpose of enforcing the Horse Protection Act, a federal statute that dates to 1970, within two weeks.”
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(April 22, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – At a press conference at the state capitol, The Humane Society of the United States and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a new television commercial showing violent abuse of horses from an investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry. The commercial is the latest effort by The HSUS to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB1248, the special interest “ag-gag” bill.
The commercial, which began airing across Tennessee this weekend, is the latest effort by The HSUS to stop the passage of SB1248, which would make it a crime for investigative journalists and organizations to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities. The bill narrowly passed the House with a bare minimum of votes and is heading to Gov. Haslam for action.
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 intentionally 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.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS said: “This commercial highlights the import role undercover investigations play in exposing inhumane practices that otherwise would remain hidden from the unsuspecting public. We are calling on Gov. Haslam to veto SB1248 and stop the animal cruelty cover-up.”
The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light but for The HSUS’ undercover investigation, which exposed a culture of lawlessness and cruelty that has thrived within the Tennessee walking horse show industry.
In 2010, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General released a damning report, concluding that “The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades” and that the “APHIS’ [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused.”
The narrator in The HSUS commercial states, “Tennessee politicians have passed a bill to silence whistle blowers, covering up the abuse and protecting the next Jackie McConnell.” The ad also highlights the fact that Tennessee newspapers have joined in opposing this special interest legislation.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill seeking to require anyone recording or taking photos of livestock abuse to turn images over to law enforcement within 48 hours was approved in the House on Wednesday with the bare vote minimum needed.
The chamber voted 50-43 to approve the measure sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, after defeating several proposed amendments and an extensive debate that at times featured lawmakers making animal noises.
Bills must gain at least 50 votes in the 99-member chamber to pass. The measure now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam, who said earlier this week that he didn’t know enough about the measure to say whether he would sign it into law.
Animal protection activists like the Humane Society of the United States have said the bill would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers and prevent undercover operations from establishing a pattern of abuse.
In 2011, the Humane Society secretly filmed video inside a Tennessee Walking Horse stable showing trainers applying caustic substances to the horses’ legs and beating them to make them stand.
Trainer Jackie McConnell, whose stable was in Senate sponsor Dolores Gresham’s West Tennessee district, pleaded guilty in federal court in September.
The Senate version passed 22-9 on Tuesday.
Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, objected to the bill during the Wednesday debate, calling it unenforceable and “Orwellian.”
“If you walk down the street and see someone commit a murder and you don’t report it, that’s not a crime,” he said, “but under your bill, if you see and record animal abuse and don’t report it, that is a crime.”
Among the failed amendments proposed on Wednesday was one that would have broadened it to require anyone observing animal abuse to report it and not limiting the reporting requirements to a person intentionally recording or photographing the abuse.
Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, tried to amend the bill to specify that news reporters would be protected from prosecution.
“We don’t punish the people who gather the information on the crime, we punish the people who commit the crime,” Lynn said.
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.
In a question-and-answer session with the Cookeville Herald-Citizen, Gov. Bill Haslam raises the possibility – well, kinda, sorta, a little bit , maybe — of doing something to help the homeless at the state level and changing anti-discrimination laws to the benefit of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender persons.
On homelessness: “Most of that is being addressed by local governments, which is the right place. As a state, we are trying to look, are there things that we might do to help them.”
Responding to the question (sent to the newspaper by a reader), “Would you support changing Tennessee’s anti-discrimination policy to include protections for LGBT Tennesseans?” “I guess it depends on exactly what they mean in terms of changes in what way. Again as governor one of my responsibilities is to make sure that no one is discriminated against or subject to any kind of abuse because of that. Again it all depends on changing the laws to say what?”
On cruelty to animals and recent reports on the “soring” of Tennessee walking horses:
” I think from a state standpoint, a couple things, number one, we certainly don’t condone animal abuse of any kind period. In that case, we support animal enforcement, the horse protection act that was passed. The enforcement for that particular industry comes from the USDA, federal law enforcement comes from them.”
Debate has reignited in Tennessee and elsewhere on allowing the killing of horses for human consumption after a change in a federal funding bill to permit equine slaughterhouses, reports Anne Paine. But then again, apparently nothing is going to happen at the state level. Slaughterhouses have been banned in this country because of specific wording in the federal budget each year that had forbidden the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending money to inspect the facilities. Without the USDA’s stamp of approval, such slaughterhouses cannot operate.
But the language that prevented the USDA from using any of its budget to inspect slaughterhouses was removed a few weeks ago from a funding bill that has passed, giving hope to state Rep. Frank S. Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
He says the facilities are a humane way to deal with horses that otherwise might starve or be abused. A local animal rights activist responded with outrage.
“We’re all very distressed,” said Laura Turner, a longtime Williamson County animal rights supporter.
“The U.S. taxpayers will be paying the USDA to inspect meat that will be going overseas as a high-end delicacy,” she said. “This was buried in a big omnibus-type bill.”
Niceley said the change makes sense.
“Any real horse person realizes you’ve got to have an end-of-life facility,” said Niceley, a Republican from Knoxville whose family has owned horses for more than a century.
Last year, he filed a bill to allow such facilities in Tennessee, but it failed. Even if it had passed, federal funding for the USDA inspections would still have been required.
Niceley said he’s unlikely to refile his bill because of the recent action taken on the federal level.
“I’m not sure we need it now,” he said.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A physician’s group said Wednesday that the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga is breaking the law by having students use pigs in surgical training instead of working on human patient simulators like most other medical schools.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asked District Attorney Bill Cox in Chattanooga in a letter to investigate and stop violations of Tennessee’s animal cruelty statute. The Washington, D.C.- based physicians group promotes alternatives to animal research.
“Of the 177 accredited medical schools in the United States and Canada, only three use live animals to train students in surgery clerkships,” according to the letter. It was signed by Dr. John J. Pippin, the committee’s director of academic affairs, and two Tennessee physicians, Dr. Robert Burns of Memphis and Dr. Jennifer Ellis of Clarksville.
The letter contends that using pigs in the training violates Tennessee’s animal cruelty law but Cox said the state statute excludes livestock.
“We received the letter and we reviewed the statute and the Legislature has deemed swine to be classified as livestock rather than domesticated animals'” Cox said.