Two West Tennessee state legislators tried to pass a bill this year that would have made it a crime to conduct the kind of undercover investigation that produced video of horse abuse, reports Richard Locker. The video resulted in federal and state charges against a Collierville walking-horse trainer and three associates. The bill was filed in January by state Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and appeared en route to passage in the Senate until it ran into opposition in a House subcommittee last month and died for the year.
As originally introduced, their bill — House Bill 3620/Senate Bill 3460 — would create a new state criminal offense “for a person to apply for employment with the intent to cause economic damage to the employer by means of unauthorized recording of video or audio while on the premises of the employer and releasing such recordings to a third party.”
The bill also declared that “All recordings taken in violation of this section shall be confiscated and, after used as evidence, destroyed.”
…A spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States said Thursday the Gresham-Holt bill would have made it illegal for the organization to have sent a representative undercover to work at Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s Whitter Stables in Fayette County near Collierville.
McConnell, 60, of Collierville, and three associates are charged in a 52-count federal indictment in Chattanooga with violating the federal Horse Protection Act. He also faces state charges of violating Tennessee’s Cruelty to Animals Act.
The Humane Society released its undercover video Thursday, showing horses being prodded with electric prods, having chemicals applied to their legs, struck with sticks and subjected to other abuses. (Note: the video is available HERE.)
HSUS said the video was shot in 2011 at Whitter Stables by an undercover representative who applied for a job and worked at the stables for about seven weeks. The video aired on ABC’s “Nightline” Wednesday night and “Good Morning America” on Thursday and is now posted on the HSUS website. The abuses it shows have sparked outrage nationally.
….Holt could not be reached Thursday but Gresham said she wasn’t aware of the HSUS investigation at any time, doesn’t know McConnell and that the bill’s purpose was to ensure that such recordings “get to law enforcement, not to third parties.”
“I just went to the HSUS website and saw the video that they had put on the website. That video needs to be on (Fayette County Dist. Atty.) Mike Dunavant’s desk, not on the internet.”
Gresham said it should be up to law enforcement whether to make videos publicly available, regardless of the Humane Society’s position that posting it raises public awareness of abuse.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The sponsor of a bill seeking to attract horse slaughter facilities said the bill likely will not pass this year.
Rep. Andy Holt said that chances were not good for the bill to pass, but he remained committed to bringing the industry to Tennessee.
The Senate version of the bill was taken off notice last week and Holt took it off the schedule for the House floor on Monday. He said an amendment that would require hefty deposits for anyone to mount a legal challenge to the facilities was removed from the bill, but he was also working on adding animal treatment guidelines.
“I am not into rushing stuff through,” he said. “We want to make sure all the interested parties have a chance to express their grievances with these bills.”
Holt said he wants to add protections for the horses and horse owners.
“The amendment we are working on right now actually sets up guidelines for animal treatment and for the procurement of these animals,” he said.
Holt, a Dresden Republican, has said his bill would create a humane way to cope with unwanted horses that are sometimes left to starve. But Democratic Rep. Janis Sontany of Nashville said slaughterhouses are seeking a different population of horses.
“They don’t want old or sick horses for slaughter,” she said. “They want healthy horses.”
Legislation to encourage horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee won approval of a House committee Tuesday, five months after Congress lifted what amounted to a national ban on processing the animals for food.
As introduced by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, HB3619 simply called on the state commissioner of agriculture to keep statistics on horses on a website.
As amended before approval by the House Agricuture Committee, it instead erects a legal hurdle for lawsuits against horse slaughterhouses and inserts into law a declaration that “the General Assembly intends to encourage the location of equine slaughter and processing facilities in Tennessee that meet all sanitary, safety and humane slaughter requirements.”
Under the proposed new law, anyone filing a lawsuit to challenge issuance of a permit for horse slaughter would have to post a surety bond equal to 20 percent of the estimated cost of building the facility or, if it is already open, to its operational costs.
State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, tried to resign his seat on the Weakley County Commission and suggest his successor at the same time. It didn’t work, according to the Weakley County Press and WCMT radio..
In Weakley County, there are two commissioners per district. Holt is a Republican; the other District 1 commissioner, John Salmon, is a Democrat, according to the story, and local rules provide that, in the case of a vacancy, the remaining commissioner in the district – in this case Salmon – would nominate the successor to vacated seat.
Holt wants Bobby Dunlap, presumably a Republican, to replace him. He proposed to resign, contingent on agreement that Dunlap would replace him. Weakley County Commission Chairman Jimmy Westbrook swiftly met his resignation attempt with an “our of order” response.
“You can’t resign based on a future event,” Westbrook said.
A bill that critics claimed would make union organizing a felony has been killed for the year in a House committee vote that split Republican ranks.
The bill by freshman Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, HB2019, declares harassment and intimidation by “union and employee organizations” a crime.
Critics say the language is so broad that it could be used to criminalize many union organizing activities. Holt, who sponsored the bill at urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, described it as a way of deterring heavy-handed union activities that have occurred in other states involving threats or actual violence.
The bill had reached the House floor seven times this session when it arrived again late Thursday. House Clerk Joe McCord then cited a House rule that says any bill postponed four times or more must be sent back to the House Calendar and Rules Committee.
When the bill returned to the Calendar Committee Thursday night, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, made a motion to send it further back to the State and Local Government Committee, which he chairs and which is closed for the year. The motion, thus, would kill the bill.
“You’re picking on our firefighters, or FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) members,” Todd told Holt. “All the things you’ve got listed in this bill – like intimidation – are already in the code books (as crimes).”
Todd said his brother, works as an association organizer, could be called in to talk about forming an association and, under the bill, “they can make him leave or say he’s threatening them and he has no recourse.” He challenged Holt to name a case in Tennessee where the proposed new law would have been needed.
Holt said he had prepared an amendment that would broaden the bill to apply to other people beyond those involved in unions or employee associations, even the Chamber of Commerce.
He described the bill as putting the state in “a defensive posture… realizing crimes are best outlawed before they occur.” Holt said the bill would also “compliment” a pending bill to stop collective bargaining between school boards and teacher unions.
House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick backed Todd, saying he thought Holt had “a pretty good bill as it stands,” but that it should be reconsidered and perhaps amended to avoid “playing political football with it.”
The vote to send the measure back to the closed committee was 13-6 with three abstentions.
By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The demise of a bill seeking to allow faculty and staff to carry guns on the campuses of public colleges has led to a flare-up between Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee House.
Freshman Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden sent an email close to midnight Tuesday to Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett that criticizes his fellow Republican for “acts of retaliation” last week in sending the measure to a study committee after the legislative session adjourns.
“I hope you’re still proud of your cowardly actions,” Holt wrote in the email.
Holt, who told reporters Wednesday that he has since made up with Coley, wrote in the email that the move made the House GOP caucus look “dysfunctional and incompetent.”
(Note: Expands, replaces and updates earlier post)
A bill to allow faculty and staff of Tennessee colleges and universities to carry guns on campus was scuttled for the year Tuesday in a surprise maneuver in the House Judiciary Committee, but could still face action in the Senate.
Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, made a motion to put off any consideration of the bill until next year pending “summer study” in the House Judiciary Committee while the sponsor, Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, was out of the room.
“In light of the way this bill got to this committee, I’m going to move that this bill be moved to summer study,” said Coley.
With no further discussion, Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, then announce, “Without objection, summer study.”
Watson then slammed down his gavel, effectively ending for the year a long-running controversy that had pitted the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents officials against second amendment activists.
“We didn’t even have a chance to discuss it,” said Holt afterwards. “I find that offensive.”
The move leaves the bill, HB2016, dead for the year in the House. Under House rules, Holt could appeal the action to House Speaker Beth Harwell. Holt said he was undecided about doing so.
In a spirited by civil confrontation, the sponsor of a “guns on campus” bill informally debated the University of Tennessee’s police chief, along with students and faculty members Tuesday.
Officially, a vote on HB2016 by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, by the House Judiciary Committee was postponed for two weeks and an array of higher education officials and students did not get to testify as planned.
Unofficially, Holt and several of those with opposing views aired their differences face-to-face in a hallway and wound up thanking each other for the opportunity of a face-to-face exchange.
Toby Boulet, a UT engineering professor, for example, told Holt that there is no evidence of increased safety at campuses where handgun carry permit holders are allowed to take their weapons than at campuses where they are banned. The bill was “gambling” that guns would make a campus safer than a ban on guns, he said.
“You want to conduct an experiment and you want to conduct it in my workplace,” said Boulet. “Why not conduct it here instead?”