News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(May 9, 2013)– In contrast to the two foreign substance violations reported by the Tennessee walking horse industry at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive.
The Humane Society of the United States has requested that Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. open an investigation into the veracity of public statements made by officials connected to the Walking Horse Trainers Association Enforcement Initiative, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization about their initiative to detect unlawful horse soring at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
(Note: A spokeswoman for Cooper said the letter has been received and is under review by the attorney general’s office.)
The HSUS maintains that this discrepancy raises a serious concern that participants and spectators at the Celebration were falsely assured that horses entered were compliant with the federal Horse Protection Act, when evidence of cruelty and cheating may have been concealed by the organizers of the event. The foreign substance testing is used to detect the presence of painful caustic chemicals that trainers apply to horses’ legs. Other cruel training methods – collectively referred to as “soring” – are used to obtain the prized high-stepping gait of the walking horse.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s been learning from both sides about a so-called “ag gag bill” since it was passed by the Legislature two weeks ago, but it hasn’t reached his desk yet and he hasn’t decided whether or not a veto is in order.
The bill has generated thousands of emails, telephone calls and letters to the governor’s office – more than on any legislation that has come up during Haslam’s term as governor – and most have been calling for a veto, a gubernatorial spokesman says.
The Humane Society of the United States has organized a campaign against the bill, including TV ads urging people to contact Haslam and urge a veto. Celebrities including TV host Ellen DeGeneres and country music singer Carrie Underwood have also pushed a veto.
Haslam said he would not simply “tally results” before making his decision.
“Obviously, we value everyone’s opinion. But we’re trying to go beyond that and find the argument,” he said.
While Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are big supporters of the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which would allow states to collect their sales tax from online retailers, Tennessee’s U.S. House delegation is torn on the subject, reports The Tennessean. Americans for Tax Reform, headed by anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, contends the proposal is a tax grab that could open the door for other ways for states to attempt to tax businesses and individuals with no physical presence within their borders.
“This leads to only ugly places,” Norquist said in an interview.
Once they have the geographic distribution of a firm’s sales taxes payments, states could argue that they are entitled to a similar percentage of a firm’s overall revenues.
“They do it now with jock taxes,” he said, referring to some states’ attempts to tax out-of-state athletes’ income if they played a certain percentage of their games within their borders.
…(F)irmly opposing the bill is Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood.
“There is nothing fair about the Marketplace Fairness Act currently being considered by the Senate,” she said in a statement.
“We don’t need the federal government mandating additional taxes on Tennessee families and businesses. The American people have been taxed enough.”
At least half of the state’s other eight members in the House remain undecided.
For instance, Patrick Newton, aide to Republican Rep. John Duncan of Knoxville, said: “At this time, Congressman Duncan has very mixed feelings about the bill. He hates to increase taxes on anyone; but on the other hand, he hates to give an advantage to big out-of-state companies that we don’t give to local small businesses.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis said they were happy to co-sponsor a House version.
“This is not a new tax but the collection of an existing one, and everybody should be for that. Online retailers should follow the same rules that Middle Tennessee’s small businesses do,” Cooper said.
From the News Sentinel website:
Federal and local authorities seized 19 horses from a Blount County stable of a walking horse show trainer Thursday on suspicion that the animals have been subjected to the practice known as “soring.”
The trainer, Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, is charged with one felony count of animal cruelty, with additional charges pending, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The seizure came a week after U.S. Department of Agriculture agents and Blount County authorities executed a search and seizure warrant at Wheelon’s barn on Tuckaleeche Pike in response to an anonymous tip.
Authorities returned Thursday to remove the 19 horses, which were visibly in pain, including several that were barely able to stand.
Investigators suspect the horses’ injuries were caused by soring — the application of caustic chemicals and painful devices to their hooves and legs used to produce the artificial, high-stepping “Big Lick” gait.
“It’s a significant number of horses to get to safety,” said Leighann McCollum, Tennessee director for HSUS. “Horses that will never have to endure that again — hopefully.”
The Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to All Animals and Horse Haven of Tennessee assisted in removing the horses to an undisclosed location, McCollum said. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office also provided security during the seizure.
Wheelon is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association and sits on its ethics committee, according to the Humane Society. Since 1993, he has been cited by inspectors 15 times for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. Wheelon was booked into the Blount County Justice Center Thursday in lieu of $5,000 bond.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office had counted 4,502 emails and 1,796 phone calls – almost all of them against the so-called “ag gag” bill, reports WPLN. That’s more than Haslam has ever received on a single subject. The proposal that passed the Tennessee legislature by a narrow margin requires that activists turn over footage of livestock cruelty to police within 48 hours. Organizations like the Humane Society of the United States say such a law would criminalize long term investigations, like one that led to the conviction of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer last year.
Animal rights groups have mounted a media blitz, complete with paid advertising in Nashville and Knoxville urging Haslam to veto the bill. TV personality Ellen DeGeneres – a well-known animal activist – had the Humane Society’s CEO on her show to talk about Tennessee’s animal cruelty bill. (More on DeGeneres and ‘Ag Gag’ HERE.)
“These kind of undercover cameras catch a lot of things,” DeGeneres said. “It’s important to keep that kind of thing going.”
It’s unclear how many of the calls and emails are coming from out of state, says a spokesman for Gov. Haslam. Only 16 of the fielded calls have supported the legislation.
— Note: The legislature’s website still says that, as of Tuesday, the bill was awaiting signatures of the House and Senate speakers — a necessary step in the formalities before the bill is officially sent to the governor’s desk. Once on the governor’s desk, he has 10 days — counting Saturday’s but not Sundays — to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
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 Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, April 22 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released the following statement today on the U.S. Senate’s decision, by a vote of 74-20, to begin debate on the Marketplace Fairness Act, of which he is a lead cosponsor:
“This legislation boils down to two words: states’ rights,” Alexander said. “We ought to support states’ rights by letting Tennessee and other states decide whether they want to collect taxes that are already owed, and how to treat businesses fairly in the marketplace. Tennessee wants to avoid a state income tax and treat businesses fairly in the marketplace, and it shouldn’t have to play ‘Mother, May I?’ with the federal government to do so.”
The senator spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of beginning debate on the legislation. Today’s vote to begin debate follows a March 23 vote by the U.S. Senate to pass an amendment to the budget resolution supporting the Marketplace Fairness Act. Both votes included a majority of Republicans.
Alexander said the Senate “sent a clear message in support of the 10th Amendment, saying that states should have the right to collect, or not collect, sales taxes from all who owe it and close a tax loophole that picks winners and losers in the marketplace.”
The Marketplace Fairness Act would grant states the option to require that remote businesses, such as those selling online or through catalogs, collect sales taxes on purchases within states’ borders. Currently, remote businesses do not have to collect sales taxes in the states they sell into, while brick-and-mortar businesses do, creating a price disadvantage.
Alexander sponsored the legislation along with Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and a bipartisan group of 26 other senators, including Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The legislation also has the support of Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as other Republican governors and conservative leaders across the country.
— Note: A statement from Corker is below.
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.
Tennessee legislators this year are calling for a broad array of limitations on federal government authority within the state, a movement that the speakers of the House and Senate say reflects growing concern within the Republican supermajority.
“The number of bills (filed) indicates that this is a Legislature that firmly believes in states’ rights,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell. “The federal government is not running properly and state government is. … That is the driving force.”
But she and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who ran for governor in 2010 under the theme “Give Washington the boot,” say they are still studying the pile of bills asserting states’ rights in one way or another and are not ready to declare support — or opposition — to specific proposals.
Ramsey said he has misgivings about some measures declaring that federal laws violating the Constitution are void in Tennessee. The threshold question, he said, is who decides what is unconstitutional.
“The last thing you want is some rogue sheriff out here deciding what’s unconstitutional,” he said.
Some proposals call for the Legislature to decide, notably including the Tennessee Balance of Powers Act (SB1158) proposed by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma. It would create a joint House-Senate committee to review federal laws and executive orders and recommend to the full House and Senate those that exceed the federal government’s constitutional authority. If the full House and Senate agree, the bill declares that those laws will be null and void within the state.
By Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Once largely united in resisting the Obama administration’s new health care overhaul, a growing number of Republican governors are now buying into parts of the system as the financial realities of their states’ medical costs begin to counterbalance the fierce election politics of the issue.
This week, Michigan’s Rick Snyder became the sixth GOP governor to propose expanding his state’s health insurance program to cover more low-income residents, in line with the Democratic administration’s strong recommendation. Eleven Republican governors have rejected the idea while a dozen, who have been mostly critical, have not announced a decision.
Although the Democratic president’s re-election last fall cleared the way for providing health insurance for millions of Americans who don’t have it, many Republican governors have resisted parts of the plan that remained optional. They have been reluctant to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income residents. And many declined to take responsibility for the online marketplaces — called exchanges– that would offer subsidized private coverage to the middle class.