Roy Exum: Haslam Is Our Only Hope

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The Chattanoongan.com. Roy Exum. April 19, 2013

Roy Exum

Roy Exum

It was with a heavy heart I learned on Thursday that the Tennessee Legislature has openly defied the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by threatening to charge representatives of news organizations and whistle-blowers with misdemeanors if they don’t submit any “photographs, digital images or video recordings” of animal abuse to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours “or by the close of the next business day.”

On Wednesday the House of Representatives approved a despicable “AgGag” bill that, in essence, makes a whistle-blower a criminal instead of a hero. HB1191 reads, “Animal Cruelty and Abuse – As introduced, requires a person who records cruelty to animals as committed against livestock to report such violation and submit any unedited photographs or video recordings to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours of the photograph’s or recording’s creation. – Amends TCA Title 39 and Title 44.”

Obviously, the widely-criticized bill greatly hampers organizations like the Humane Society for the United States from gathering tapes and building evidence like that of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer viciously and sadistically abusing animals in his barn. The viral 2011 tape of horse trainer Jackie McConnell, which first aired on the ABC News program “Nightline,” has now been seen around the world and McConell, still awaiting trial in a state that wants evidence the next day, has been found to be a felon in Federal Court.

But now this. In the very state that is the epicenter of horse abuse in America, the House, by vote of 50-43, passed HB 1191 and, unless Governor Bill Haslam vetoes the ill-advised legislation, the cowards who believe torture and soring our native horses is permissible will win a major battle in the ability to cover up their vile indiscretions to win their cheap blue ribbons

Earlier the State Senate approved the bill by a stunning 22-9 margin with Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) voting for the bill, while Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) did not. In the House, where 50 votes were needed to pass “the Catch-22 bill,” both House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) could have made a difference but neither did. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), and David Alexander (R-Winchester which includes Marion County) also voted for the bill.

Among those against the bill were Vince Dean (R-East Ridge), JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga), and Eric Watson (R-Cleveland).

Jack McElroy, the editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is already on record saying his newspaper will ignore the law if Governor Haslam signs it. He wrote, “The news media is not an extension of local law enforcement, and we will not function as such. That’s why Tennessee has a reporter’s Shield Law, so that journalists can operate independently.

“The First Amendment protects an independent press,” McElroy continued, “because the founders understood that freedom of the press is a logical extension of the basic freedom of speech and is vital to keeping government power in check.”

But Jack’s most insightful reason was this: “Some lawmakers have suggested exempting the media from an ‘Ag Gag’ law. That idea reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘the press’ is. No license or certification is needed to be part of the media in America. Freedom of the press means anyone can be ‘the press.’ In this era of websites, blogs and tweets, there are no practical barriers to self-publication, either.” (Witness this year’s Boston Marathon.)

Proponents of the bill pointed to the fact that if a health official sees or even suspects child abuse, it must be reported immediately but, sadly, the “AgGag” bills popping up across the nation are hardly the same. The New York Times revealed they are designed to hide atrocities in the food industry, where one video showed beef cattle so sick they had to be loaded by fork lift trucks, workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs, and baby chicks being burned and having their beaks snapped off.

Everybody knows animal rights investigations take months to complete. “This bill is designed to keep animals from suffering,” Richard Floyd said yesterday afternoon. “All we are saying is go to the authorities immediately.”

But do we make those who wait out to be criminals? Asked if he was aware that of 195 horses tested by the USDA at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration last August, a total of 145 tested positive for illegal substances on their forelegs, Rep. Floyd said he was unaware of that. He said he was also unaware that not one arrest was made when a stunning 76 percent of the horses tested positive for abuse in the so-called “Big Lick” industry.

Last week new legislation was proposed in Congress aimed directly at those in Tennessee who regularly violate the federal Horse Protection Act. Further, every leading veterinary group and animal rights organization in the United States are rallying around the bill.

But, if Governor Haslam doesn’t use his veto, Tennessee has just made it criminal to build evidence of animal abuse. Who would have ever guessed it?

royexum@aol.ccom

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
14 Comments
  • Daryl

    Well it sounds like money has bought another problem for the ones who are trying to help the voice-less animals, for sure they can’t speak for them selves in court. What is this nation coming too? These animals are not catching a break of any kind. Bless them all.

    April 21, 2013
    • BlessUsAll

      Yes, Daryl, and bless all those who succumb to the temptation to do evil and are most desperately in need of a blessing.

      April 21, 2013
  • shirley mix

    This is crazy, need to keep this in the public eye.See how many horses they sell.
    Money talks, no body really cares with the exception of the horse lovers.
    KEEP IT IN THE PUBLIC EYE.

    April 21, 2013
  • Margaret

    I think the Governor should be forced to watch the Jackie McConnell video and that horrible video we saw at the Horse Conference in Las Vegas. There should be vets and farriers there to explain EXACTLY what those horrible 12 lb blocks do when forcibly screwed into the foot.

    Better yet force him to wear 12 lb blocks, standing 24/7, whipped and hotshotted hen he lays own. And he has to eat standing up. For EVERY instance of abuse that Jackie perpetrated the same must be sentenced to the governor. This is the only way he’ll truly understand what he is enabling animal abusers

    April 21, 2013
    • Daryl

      sounds like a good idea, I put my Daughter in the trailer empty of course,in my pasture, told her to stand and try and keep her balance, she had a better idea of how the horses have to stand to ride and stay on their feet.You get a new view of things.

      April 22, 2013
  • Margaret

    Oops got cut of!
    I was trying to say its the only way this governor will understand about the abuse, what the horse endures, what needs to be done to stop this.

    TWH folks have had 40 some years to clean up their act. They can’t or won’t, because of ribbons. There’s big money behind this association.

    How can anyone think this is a pretty or beautiful stride? It’s the ugliest slimiest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m just sorry for the horses that are subjected to these ratholes on two legs….

    April 21, 2013
  • janwindsong

    I wonder if they caught the news that some states have repulsed the AgGag Bill. The latest is California who dropped the bill due lack of support.

    April 21, 2013
    • Judy Wendt

      Good for California. AgGags are clearly a violation of freedom of the press which is supposed to be guaranteed under the 1st Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. Wherever these pass, they are heavily funded by ALEC (American Legislative Economic Council)- a massively funded corporation lobby that operates at the level of the states to enact laws that favor their interests.

      These laws need to be challenged by the court system and maybe HSUS will be the ones to do it!

      April 22, 2013
    • Daryl

      The bill should not get any support at all.
      We have a responsibility to help these animals and if that is taken away, they have no voice for them at all, this is not the American way. We have the freedom of speach, we have fought for it many times, that is why this Country is Great. We can’t loose it now.

      April 22, 2013
  • I do not live in the state of Tennennesse but if I did I would be sure to remember how the ones that helped pass this terrible bill voted on it. If this happens in Texas I will use my vote to get them out of office.

    April 21, 2013
  • All who voted for this bill are helping the criminals and ought to be thrown out of office.

    April 22, 2013
  • Susan Setzke

    This goes in direct opposition to the first amendment. Being able to disclose cruelty and neglect is the very reason why this bill is criminal in it’s intent. What next, legalizing abuse?

    April 22, 2013
  • Daryl

    The aggags are not for the animals.
    It is so all the people sho are making money in wrong ways for horses to win to get away with it.
    This country needs to be turned around for what is good and not evil, how can we help the horses, not lets kill them. One way is to show how these animals are being hurt, not make the ones who are trying to help them in the wrong.
    Washington better wake up and see we the peole are the ones who put them IN and can take them OUT, & we do need to take some out to show it.

    April 22, 2013
  • Daryl

    Robert Redford has called for a ban on horse slaughter, this may be the help we need for others to see it and read about it and do some thing about. Bless you Mr. Redford.

    April 22, 2013