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.
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(April 19, 2013) – The Humane Society of the United States urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto Tennessee’s notorious anti-whistleblower, or “ag-gag,” bill, SB1248, which would make it a crime for reputable non-profit organizations and journalists to document and expose unethical and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities. The bill narrowly passed the House with a bare minimum of votes and will soon be transmitted to Gov. Haslam for action.
In a letter to Gov. Haslam, Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, said the bill “appears to be an attempt to enact a policy of covering up abuses, and keeping the public from learning of them. If it 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.”
In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The whistleblower recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and intentionally burned with caustic chemicals. As a direct 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.
A bill to raise penalties for cockfighting in Tennessee fell two votes short of passage in the state Senate Monday night after Sen. Frank Niceley depicted the measure as an attack on farmers raising livestock by animal rights’ activists.
“This bill is not about chickens, not about cockfighting. It’s about killing animal agriculture in America,” said Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
He contended that bill “makes it illegal to own a bantam hen” and “as written, it could outlaw hunting hogs with hounds in Tennessee.” He also said the Humane Society of the United States, which supports the bill, spent $50,000 trying to defeat him in his last campaign and “word in the hall is” that the organization is spending $90,000 on lobbying.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, sponsor of the bill (SB285), said the bill would not make ownership of chickens “of any kind” illegal would merely bring Tennessee in line with 39 other states in penalizing cockfighting.
He also declared that he was not sponsoring the bill for HSUS, but because the mild penalty now was bringing crime associated with cockfighting to Tennessee. In 2008, he said the TBI arrested a group of cockfighters engaged in “multi-ton meth and heroin” shipments, working in conjunction with “Mexican drug dealers.”
The bill sets a minimum fine of $500 for both those who engage in cockfighting and spectators on first offense, though the crime would still be classed as a misdemeanor. The current minimum fine is $50.
Those convicted of a second offense for engaging in cockfighting could be prosecuted on a felony under the bill, subject to a fine of up to $3,000 and six years in jail.
Sens. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, and Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, expressed misgivings about the bill.
Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, repeated a remark he said was initially made by another senator years ago: “A chicken’s got a lot better chance in the ring than he does with Colonel Sanders.”
The final vote was 15-8 with nine senators abstaining or not voting. A bill needs 17 yes votes to pass the Senate.