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Haslam Rejects Cruelty-to-Livestock Reporting Mandate

Governor plans a veto for so-called ‘Ag Gag’

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is vetoing a bill passed by the state’s General Assembly that requires people who film others committing acts of animal cruelty to hand those images over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

In a statement released Monday that made a point to declare his support for Tennessee agriculture and livestock producers, the governor suggested he’d like lawmakers to reexamine issues raised in the public storm of criticism that kicked up after the bill was passed last month.

“I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods,” Haslams said in the statement. “I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong.”

The governor cited three different trouble-spots with the legislation: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so. If that is the case, it should say 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.”

Last week Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper dissected the bill and identified what he and his staff believed were issues that made the measure “constitutionally suspect.”

Haslam suggested he may be open to addressing the issues identified by the bills sponsors, Somerville Sen. Dolores Gresham and Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, both Republicans.

“Some vetoes are made solely on policy grounds. Other vetoes may be the result of wanting the General Assembly to reconsider the legislation for a number of reasons,” the governor said. “My veto here is more along the lines of the latter.”

Holt and Gresham argued that their legislation was designed solely to protect animals from cruelty — that often animal rights activists, after filming objectionable treatment of livestock, would sit on the evidence for months before making it public.

Opponents of the legislation, made up of a diverse range of bipartisan and advocacy interests, criticized the bill as an attempt to “gag” animal rights activists. Among other things, it raised the possibility that investigations into livestock abuse may run afoul of authorities if those conducting the probes don’t properly keep police apprised of their findings, they said.

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