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Governor Haslam’s ‘Ag-Gag’ Veto Could Have National Impact 

Food Safety News, May 14, 2013, Dan Flynn

haslam-placehold-300x184The veto by Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam of a bill requiring anyone taking pictures or shooting video of animal abuse to turn the evidence over to law enforcement within 48 hours may have national impact.

Haslam’s veto, coming on the heels of an opinion by his democratic Attorney General that the so-called “ag-gag” measures are  “constitutionally suspect,” could be a turning point.  Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said SB 1248/HB 1191 possibly violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution for placing burdens on the news media and violating the right against self-incrimination.

The AG’s opinion was clearly weighing on the Governor when he opted to use his veto pen.

In addition to sharing Cooper’s concerns, Haslam said the bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature appears to repeal parts of the state’s Shield Law, which exists to protest journalists from being used by law enforcement.  And, Haslam said, some of the state’s district attorneys are concerned that the law actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal abuse.

Differing views on when animal abuse should be reported was at the heart of the Tennessee debate. The most significant animal abuse cases are often the product of undercover investigations by animal activists.  They say those investigations usually take several weeks, and would be harmed by premature presentations to law enforcement. Animal agriculture wants quick reporting, arguing that animal abuse should not be stretched out for the sake of making a better case.

“Ag-gag” laws would put undercover investigators out of business, according to groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  After Tennessee’s “ag-gag” bill passed, campaigns broke out to persuade Haslam to both sign and veto it. Veto advocates were able to remind state voters of a recent undercover investigation conducted by HSUS in the state.

Multiple state and federal indictments followed HSUS’s investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville in 2011. The group’s undercover investigator collected recordings of horses being whipped, kicked and shocked in the face. McConnell and two others were charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty. Had the vetoed law been in effect, HSUS said the cruelty to horses would never come to light.

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