Critics Call on Guv to Veto ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill

Opponents of so-called “ag-gag” legislation held a media event Monday at the Tennessee State Capitol, calling for a veto from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The bill, sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and in the Senate by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, requires anyone who films or photographs animal abuse to hand the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours. The Legislation passed both chambers last week.

Supporters contend that the measure is meant to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and stop illegal treatment of animals as quickly as possible. Critics, however, argue that it is actually an industry protection law, created to stop journalists and animal rights groups from gathering enough evidence to prove cases of continuing abuse.

The event Monday included Knoxville Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson who characterized the bills as a “special-interest power grab” that “gives industry the power to avoid transparency.” She said it “undercuts America’s First Amendment right to gather and share information.”

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, also spoke to reporters and screened a campaign-style ad the group is running in Nashville and Knoxville TV markets urging viewers to contact the governor and push for a veto.

Bill sponsor Andy Holt told TNReport on the legislative session’s final day last week that after discussing the measure with Haslam, he’s confident that it would become law. He also defended the intentions behind the legislation, charging that the Humane Society of the U.S. was demonizing it to raise money.

“The truest intent of this bill is to protect animals — especially from ongoing investigations like we’ve seen many times in the past from HSUS,” Holt said. “This is a radical animal activist group that raises literally hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“HSUS uses instances of animal abuse as a basic mode of revenue-generation. They don’t want to end animal abuse,” Holt continued. “It seems to me that they want to discover and investigate animal abuse but they want to do that for a profit to themselves”

Unlike many other contentious issues that made it through the General Assembly during the recent session, debate on the animal abuse bill didn’t follow partisan lines. A handful of Democrats in the House voted “aye,” allowing it to eek by with a razor-thin margin of 50-43; One vote less and it would have failed for lack of majority.

Meanwhile, some Senate Republicans were amongst those strongly decrying the law before it passed 22-9. Majority Leader Mark Norris was one such detractor who voted no, describing the proposal as “just a sham bill.”

“It’s not designed to prevent animal abuse,” the Collierville senator told TNReport. “It’s designed to prevent the filming of animal abuse and that doesn’t do anything to combat animal abuse at all.”

Publically, at least, Gov. Haslam has said he hasn’t made up his mind about the legislation yet.

“It’s not one that, quite frankly, was really high on my radar screen so I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to it until this week,” Haslam told reporters April 18. “I’ve had proponents and opponents tell us their reasoning and we’re going to do some homework.”

Once the bill is delivered to the governor, he has 10 days to sign the bill into law or veto it. He can also choose to do nothing in which case the bill will become law following that 10-day period.