SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee walking horse groups continue to clash with U.S. Agriculture Department inspectors this week as the industry’s premier event takes place in Shelbyville.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/QOjuzf) that frequently during the Celebration, USDA inspectors have issued citations where independent inspectors and an independent veterinarian found no signs of soring. Soring is the illegal practice of causing injuries to a horse’s legs or hooves to exaggerate the high-stepping gait that wins prizes.
On Monday night, USDA inspectors cited Winky Groover, a trainer who recently appeared in newspaper and television reports explaining what’s being done to clean up walking horse shows.
Groover disputed the UDSA’s finding that I’m Jiminy Cricket had been sored.
“(I’m Jiminy Cricket) was perfectly sound,” Groover said. “When the inspector turned him down, I took him to the veterinarian, and he was perfectly sound.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has written U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack with concerns about Horse Protection Act enforcement which he said “cause great uncertainty for the industry and this coming ‘Celebration.'”
From the Shelbyville Times-Gazette: DesJarlais, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and its subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, has asked to meet with Vilsack and his staff to discuss the issues.
DesJarlais claims that USDA has intimidated those in the industry from talking to their congressmen about the issue and refers to an allegation that if the industry went over the head of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Celebration would be shut down. The letter also refers to changes in enforcement results and procedures.
DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg), a physician, represents the 4th Congressional District. Bedford and Rutherford counties are in the process of being moved from the 6th District to the 4th District effective with this election cycle, as a result of redistricting which followed the 2010 Census. DesJarlais is finishing his first two-year term in the House and is running for re-election against Democratic State Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester.
The Tennessee Walking Show Horse organization recently called DesJarlais “a friend to and advocate of the walking horse on Capitol Hill.”
— Note: DesJarlais is taking some criticism for his walking horse stance, an example being Roy Exum.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund has disclosed $27,475 in independent expenditures opposing Republican Frank Niceley’s campaign for the state Senate and agreed to register as a political action committee in Tennessee, an official said Monday.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said the HSLF disclosure form was received in his office Monday. He then sent an email to PAC officials advising that, as he reads the relevant laws involved, the PAC should have registered with Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance before spending in a state legislative race.
In a prompt reply, the group promised to file the registration papers, Rawlins said, and that will conclude the matter with no further action. The failure to register seems an honest mistake that is being corrected, he said, and the PAC was obviously not trying to conceal its spending.
HSLF spokesman Dane Waters said last week that the Washington-based PAC’s attorneys thought that no registration in Tennessee was required, but that filing a disclosure report was necessary. Indeed, the report – covering the period July 25-Aug. 1 was not legally required to be filed until Oct. 10 since the spending occurred after July 23, the last deadline for disclosures before the Aug. 2 primary election.
The disclosure shows most of the money went toward direct mail pieces that attacked Niceley for legislation the group saw as supporting horse slaughter, cockfighting and “canned hunting.” The rest – $6,687 – went to pay for automated phone calls to voters criticizing Niceley on the same issues.
Niceley, who currently serves as a state representative, had estimated earler that up to $50,000 was spent by the group. He defeated three opponents to win the Republican nomination in the six-county Senate District 8 and will be unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election.
— Note: One of the anti-Niceley mailers is reproduced below.
While independent expenditures of out-of-state organizations may have achieved their goal in some state legislative races this summer, Frank Niceley says attacks by two Washington-based groups against him backfired and likely helped his state Senate campaign.
Direct mail attacks on Niceley by one group, the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), may also have run afoul of state law. And a post card from the NRA that accused him of lying, Niceley says, has transformed him from a friend of the gun owners group to an enemy.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said the HSLF political action committee failed to register with the state as required by the law. Dane Waters, a spokesman for the group, says attorneys advised the fund that registration with the Registry of Election Finance was not required.
The mailers attack Niceley for supporting legislation to allow slaughter of horses for food, for opposing legislation to make cockfighting a felony and for supporting “canned hunting” with legislation that would allow whitetail deer farms in Tennessee.
Horse slaughter, deer farming and raw milk sales might be ignored in most political campaigns, but not in this summer’s four-candidate, six-county Republican primary race that will decide who succeeds retiring state Sen. Mike Faulk.
“The horse is a very intelligent animal. In my personal opinion and the opinion of humane societies I’ve talked with, we don’t need to be killing them for human consumption,” said candidate Jeff Brantley of Sharp’s Chapel. “What’s next? Dogs and cats?”
Candidate Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, as a state representative, has pushed legislation that would clear the way for operation of horse slaughter facilities. The bills have failed.
He has also unsuccessfully sponsored legislation that would legalize keeping whitetail deer in captivity and selling them — an idea Brantley said he also opposes.
Critics say such a move would raise the risk of Tennessee’s native whitetails becoming infected with illnesses brought in by imported, domesticated deer, including chronic wasting disease. Proponents say such concerns are mistaken and deer farming would be a new source of income in rural counties.
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.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The sponsor of a state Senate proposal that seeks to encourage the commercial slaughter of horses in Tennessee withdrew the measure Wednesday, but said he likely will revive it if a similar bill makes progress in the House.
Republican Sen. Mike Faulk of Kingsport took the legislation off notice in the Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee. A House floor vote on the companion bill has been delayed until Monday evening.
Faulk said the proposal is intended to encourage Tennessee to develop rules and regulations in case a commercial slaughter operator wants to locate in the state and “properly, humanely … dispose of horses.”
“I don’t care for the notion of a horse slaughter plant,” he said. “But it’s one of those parts of the cycle of life that is necessary. As repugnant as it may seem to someone who has a horse that is a pet, the fact of the matter is, that animal is eventually going to die.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion says a legislative proposal to require large deposits before people could mount a legal challenge to a horse slaughterhouse is constitutionally suspect.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt would require a bond equal to 20 percent of the worth of a horse slaughterhouse or processing plant from anyone filing a lawsuit against the facility.
The Dresden Republican’s bill seeks to encourage the practice of slaughtering horses in Tennessee.
Attorney General Bob Cooper writes in the opinion requested by Democratic Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar that measure would conflict with state constitutional provisions forbidding “unreasonable and arbitrary barriers” to using the courts to settle disputes.
The bill is scheduled for a full House vote on Monday.
Note: The full AG opinion is HERE.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to take a position on a bill seeking to encourage horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee.
The Republican governor told reporters after a visit to a Nashville high school on Monday that he understands that proponents believe slaughtering horses within the state is a more humane way to treat unwanted animals.
But Haslam said his administration has yet to take a formal position on the bill scheduled for a vote on the House floor Monday evening.
Opponents of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden argue that it would unfairly discourage legal challenges of horse slaughter or processing plants by requiring plaintiffs to submit a deposit worth 20 percent of the facility’s worth.
Holt on Monday put off a vote for three weeks.