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Veto of ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill Praised by Animal Welfare Champions

Press release from the Humane Society of the United States; May 13, 2013:

(May 13, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248/HB 1191, after hearing from thousands of Tennesseans urging the veto and a report deeming the bill constitutionally suspect by the Tennessee Attorney General.

Animal protection groups, First Amendment advocates and newspaper editorial boards across Tennessee opposed the bill, which would criminalize undercover investigations at agribusiness operations and stables. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several Tennessee celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013. The bill also received national criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to discuss the issue.

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, added: “It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it. We are grateful to Governor Haslam for hearing the clear voice of Tennesseans and ending this debate so emphatically.”

In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Gov. Haslam had said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying 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.”

In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and burned with caustic chemicals. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.

The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light had SB 1248/HB 1191 been enacted.

Facts

  • The HSUS placed a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean that includes quotes from ten Tennessee newspapers editorializing against SB1248.
  • Pacelle sent a letter to Gov. Haslam stating that if SB1248 is signed into law, “it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
  • The HSUS and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a television commercial at the state capitol showing footage from the undercover investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry and calling on the governor to veto SB1248.
  • Of the 11 states that have introduced such ag-gag legislation in 2013, none have passed it.

Right-to-Hunt-&-Fish Amendment Clears Last Hurdle Before Voters

A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that protects citizens’ right to hunt and fish is headed to the voters.

After already being approved by the Senate, the House approved final passage of the proposed amendment, SJR30, on Thursday.

The language of the measure reads, “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The House sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, said the amendment is needed to prevent erosion of the rights before they are attacked.

“They didn’t think they had a problem in Great Britain and other European countries until it was politically popular to ban certain types of hunting, and then it was too late,” McCord said on the House floor. “This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in some other countries. States such as Pennsylvania put these in their original constitutions when written.”

McCord said 12 other states have similar provisions in their state constitutions and at least eight other states are considering such a measure.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, questioned the need for the measure. “Your reference has been to what has happened in other countries. What has happened in Tennessee — what has happened in America — that has led you to seek this amendment?” she asked.

McCord acknowledged there doesn’t appear to be a current or immediate threat against people hunting and fishing. But nothing presently in the Tennessee Constitution prohibits lawmakers or political interests hostile to the harvest of fish and wild game from attempting to outlaw or unreasonably restrict the activities in the future, he said.

“There is currently not a problem with this, but what happened in other countries, when it became politically popular, it was too late to address the issue, and we are trying to address it now while it’s not a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said.

Turner said she is not against people who hunt or fish, but she said the issue could be resolved through state laws and regulations rather than a constitutional amendment.

“I just think that the Constitution is sacred, and those laws that we pass should reflect upon the uniqueness, the importance, of this,” she said. “My husband was an avid fisherman…but all he had to do was follow the rules and regulations of wherever he was. I just cannot understand why we would need a constitutional amendment. I’m talking about the sacredness of the Constitution.”

McCord said protecting those rights by constitutional amendment is the strongest way to protect hunting and fishing rights. “We all in this room assume we have that right (to hunt and fish), but we’re not guaranteed that right unless it’s by Constitution,” he said.

A change to the state Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber in two consecutive General Assemblies, and it then must be approved by the voters, while a change in state law takes approval by a simple majority of each chamber plus the governor’s signature and is not subject to the approval of the voters.

McCord added that the measure would not prevent state government from protecting any species deemed threatened.

“This does not take the ability for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to set reasonable regulations – their first goal is the protection of species, and they maintain that responsibility and right,” he said.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said the push for the constitutional amendment was a preemptive strike against the Obama administration.

“I heard the whole scenario as to the rage that’s going across the country with this whole idea this present administration is moving to ban this right,” she said. “It’s alright if Tennessee wants to respond to every kind of allegation that’s out there, so eventually we’re not going to be able to even read the Constitution it’s going to be so long.”

McCord responded that the move to pass the proposed constitutional amendment began while George W. Bush was still president.

The final vote was 90-1.

Turner was the lone vote against the measure. Brown and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga pushed the “present but not voting” button. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, were present but did not vote.

Reps. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, Gary Moore, D-Joelton, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were excused from attending the floor session.

The vote in the Senate, which occurred in late January, was unanimous.