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OpEd: Stop animal abuse bill in its tracks 

The Tennessean. OpEd

images-40OUR VIEW

We are continually reminded of the vigilance that is required to eradicate a culture of violence in our state and our nation — violence against people foremost, we are reminded this week — but also against the most blameless of beings, the animals that mankind has domesticated for its utility and its entertainment.

Proposed legislation was advancing, quietly, in the Tennessee General Assembly that would make it harder to put a stop to animal abuse by setting unreasonable conditions on those who witness abuse. Senate Bill 1248/House Bill 1191 is very much viable, but some key lawmakers have raised questions about the intent of this bill.

And they should. It’s sponsored by Sen. Delores Gresham of Somerville, a partner in a West Tennessee livestock market, and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, an industrial hog producer. For two individuals who have commercial interest in livestock to introduce a bill that, had it been law, would have prevented the 2011 undercover videotaping of walking horse abuse, is highly suspect.

If anything, Gresham and Holt, with their backgrounds, should be clearing obstacles to detection and prevention of abuse. Instead, SB 1248/HB 1191 would require anyone with evidence of abuse to turn it over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face misdemeanor charges. So … punish the person who is trying to stop abuse — why else photograph it — and not the perpetrator?

It’s clear to anyone to looks at how the Humane Society videotaped Jackie McConnell’s soring of walking horses, that the case would have unraveled if it had to be rushed, at risk to the safety of the person working undercover. This bill is no more than an attempt to intimidate animal-cruelty opponents.

Incidentally, Sen. Gresham voted against legislation this year that would have cockfighting a felony in Tennessee. That bloodsport of illegal gamblers and drug dealers continues to thrive in our state, thanks to minor penalties.

Her take on the abuse-reporting bill, in remarks this week, is telling: Assembling evidence, she said, “needs to be done by law enforcement, not by vigilantes.” But vigilantes use force, or threat of force, to achieve their ends. And they answer to an imagined, higher authority than the law of the land. The Humane Society and others who are fighting animal abuse in Tennessee every day have exhibited none of the characteristics of vigilantes.

Perhaps Sen. Gresham doesn’t grasp the meaning of the term; or perhaps her goal to mislead. Her bill would certainly take our state in the wrong direction, toward more senseless violence.

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