NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill that would require images documenting animal abuse to be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
State Attorney General Bob Cooper last week said in a legal opinion that the measure would be “constitutionally suspect” because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection.
Haslam said Monday that the opinion is one of the reasons he’s vetoing the bill.
Animal protection groups say the measure they have dubbed the “ag gag” bill is designed to prevent whistleblowers from collecting evidence of ongoing patterns of abuse.
The veto is Haslam’s second since he took office in 2010.
— Note: Here’s Haslam’s statement on the bill, as provided by his office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statement regarding HB 1191/SB 1248:
“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee. Farmers play a vital role in our state’s economy, heritage and history. I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong,” Haslam said.
“Our office has spent a great deal of time considering this legislation. We’ve had a lot of input from people on all sides of the issue. After careful consideration, I am going to veto the legislation. Some vetoes are made solely on policy grounds. Other vetoes may be the result of wanting the General Assembly to reconsider the legislation for a number of reasons. My veto here is more along the lines of the latter. I have a number of concerns.
“First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.
“For these reasons, I am vetoing HB1191/SB1248, and I respectfully encourage the General Assembly to reconsider this issue.”
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.
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.
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.
News release from state Department of Agriculture:
NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed an executive order allowing haulers of hay to carry larger loads in their trucks as long as they observe safety requirements. The order is in response to drought and extreme weathers conditions in Texas and across the Southeast, which has left some farmers without access to hay for livestock.
“It’s been a tough year for farmers across the Southeast, and we want to be responsive to their needs,” Haslam said. “This order will ensure that much needed hay can be shipped safely and without delay through Tennessee and along our major interstate corridors.”
Gov. Haslam’s executive order increases the gross vehicle weight to 95,000 pounds, not to exceed 20,000 pounds per axle load, for semi truck/trailers. The order also increases the height of trailer loads to 13 feet, 6 inches and the width to a maximum of 14 feet during daylight hours.
The increase in width allows haulers to transport standard six- to seven-foot round hay bales side by side, increasing the capacity being hauled per truck without a permit. The executive order is in effect for 60 days.
Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said the governor’s decision is an important one for the agricultural community.
“The governor’s order will help farmers in our own state who may need hay, and it will ensure that market supply and demand is met,” Johnson said. “Tennessee farmers have seen their share of weather related problems this year, and I applaud the governor for recognizing that farming is a tough but important business in our state and across the region.”
Tennessee is a major producer of hay, ranking 5th in the nation. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast that Tennessee farmers will produce 1.9 million acres of hay this year, excluding alfalfa, for a total of 4.3 million tons. For more information on Tennessee’s expected crop harvest, visit www.nass.usda.gov/tn.