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Haslam vetoes 'ag gag' bill

Published On: May 13 2013 11:36:55 AM CDT
Updated On: May 13 2013 11:42:10 AM CDT

Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a controversial "ag gag" bill that would require intentional documentation of animal abuse be handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Haslam says the state Attorney General felt the bill was "constitutionally suspect." He also believes it violates Tennessee's Shield Law that protects journalists while collecting information.

Haslam says he understands some farmers' concerns about 'large scale attacks on their livelihoods,' and also that some recordings targeted by the bill may be obtained under false pretenses.

The full text of Haslam's press release about the veto is as follows:

"HASLAM RELEASES STATEMENT ON HB 1191/SB 1248

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.”"

The ASPCA released a statement commending Governor Haslam for the veto.

"NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is hailing today’s decision by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto Senate Bill (SB) 1248/House Bill (HB) 1191 as a victory for animal welfare and consumer safety. If signed into law, this dangerous anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation would have suppressed whistleblowers and protected animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment. 

“SB 1248/HB 1191 would have had disastrous results for Tennessee’s animals by providing protections for those who would harm them,” said Sherry Rout, state legislative director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Southern region, and Tennessee resident. “We thank Governor Haslam for listening to the citizens of Tennessee and preventing this harmful and unnecessary bill from becoming law.”

This legislation would have suppressed whistleblower investigations on farms, which have been extremely successful in documenting the inhumane treatment of animals, uncovering crucial health and welfare information, and spurring many groundbreaking reforms. If this bill had become law, these types of investigations—such as the one last year that revealed the gruesome practice of beating and soring Tennessee Walking Horses—would have remained hidden from the public.

“This bill would have placed a veil over animal welfare and food safety in the state and suppressed whistleblowers from exposing potential harms,” added Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. “We hope the action taken today by Governor Haslam will encourage industry to directs its energy toward achieving accountability for those who are inflicting abuse on animals and putting consumers at risk, rather than coming up with creative ways to cover up these problems.”

SB 1248 was introduced in February by Senator Dolores Gresham. A companion bill in the House, HB 1191 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt, was also introduced in February. Last week, Tennessee’s Attorney General called the legislation “constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment on three grounds,” and also stated that the bill could violate a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

In a 2012 nationwide poll commissioned by the ASPCA, it was revealed that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent oppose making such efforts illegal. Additionally, 94 percent of Americans feel that it is important to have measures in place to ensure that food coming from farm animals is safe for people to eat, and 94 percent agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty. 

In addition to Tennessee, anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation has been introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming. No bills have been successful. The ASPCA is working to oppose these bills in all the states where they have been proposed. In addition, a multitude of national groups representing a wide array of public interests have joined animal welfare organizations in opposing this type of legislation.

For more information on this issue, please visit www.aspca.org/Fight-Animal-Cruelty/Advocacy-Center/ag-gag. To join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/advocacy-center/. "