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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Controversial Livestock Abuse Legislation Passes House, Goes to Governor

After almost two hours of debate, a contentious livestock-abuse reporting bill cleared the state House of Representatives Wednesday with the minimal vote necessary for a chamber majority, 50-42-2.

The legislation requires individuals who record cruelty to livestock to submit those unedited images to law enforcement within 48 hours or face being charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Tennessee Code Annotated defines livestock as “all equine as well as animals which are being raised primarily for use as food or fiber for human utilization or consumption, including, but not limited to, cattle, sheep, swine, and goats.” The bill does not apply to dogs, cats or chickens, although some argued it should.

Passage in the House was a hard-fought battle on the part of House Bill 1191 sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, who has argued from the beginning that the purpose of the bill is stop animal abuse as soon as possible.

“How long do you think an animal should have to suffer before the perpetrator is brought to justice?” the Republican from Dresden asked in his closing remarks before the vote. “I particularly believe we should bring that individual to justice as quickly as possible. Others, who oppose this bill, feel like four, five, six months is appropriate, and I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.”

Holt said nothing in the bill would prohibit a person investigating a suspected livestock abuse situation from continuing that investigation after he had turned in the video tape or photographs of the first incident recorded.

Delaying law enforcement while individuals or animal rights groups built cases through continued documentation of abuse was only one argument against the bill, which was bipartisan in its criticism.

The most contentious argument came from Republican Rep. Vance Dennis, who argued that the bill is “unenforceable because you can’t arrest someone for the crime you’re creating.” 

“You cannot arrest for a fine-only misdemeanor. You can cite for not coming to court, but if the person doesn’t come to court, you have no means of enforcement, “ said Dennis, an attorney from Savannah.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, argued that by attaching a criminal offense to the legislation, “This bill is coercion by government of the worst kind.”

Other arguments raised in the House were much the same as those raised in the Senate on Tuesday, where the legislation passed 22-9, with four Republicans joining five Democrats in voting no.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris brought an amendment that would have rewritten the bill and would have required “any person who has knowledge of or observes” an animal being abused to report it to law enforcement immediately.

However, Senate Bill 1248 sponsor Sen. Delores Gresham moved successfully to kill Norris’ effort, which was tabled on a 17-10 vote.

“Obviously, it’s not the attempt of the sponsor of the bill to make every citizen who might find themselves in a situation where they might observe this to make them a criminal. But indeed that’s essentially what this bill does,” said Gresham, a Republican from Somerville, about the Norris amendment.

Norris, a Republican from Collierville, shot back, “Either you’re opposed to animal abuse or you’re not, and that’s why this amendment is designed to get to the root of the problem. The sponsor says she doesn’t want to criminalize animal abuse in general, just the filming of it. If you see abuse, you need to report it, whether you’re filming it or not.”

Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, rose in support of the bill because, “As a farmer, I’ve got livestock, and sometimes people don’t understand the proper handling of livestock. … It could be misunderstood and it could waste a lot of our DA’s time.”

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, again cited the link between those who commit animal abuse at an early age and those who commit child and/or spousal abuse as an adult.

Equally as passionate in favor of the bill, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, expressed outrage at the United States Humane Society for holding the video of soring of a Tennessee walking horse in Collierville for four months before releasing it in May 2012.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

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Featured Liberty and Justice

Senate Vote on Animal-Abuse Reporting Delayed

Legislation is on the Tennessee Senate floor that would require individuals who shoot video or take photographs of people being cruel to animals to submit those images to law enforcement within 24 hours.

The bill is on hold now though, after conflicting perspectives on the proposal emerged between fellow GOP caucus members. It was rolled until next week.

On Thursday Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told members of the body that he sees problems with Somerville Republican Delores Gresham’s measure, Senate Bill 1248.

“This is a Catch-22 bill. I don’t know anybody in here who favors animal cruelty,” said Norris, an attorney from Collierville. “We oppose animal cruelty, yet it’s being construed in some quarters as a bill that supports animal cruelty.”

An individual could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fine only if he fails to turn in a video or photographs taken of an animal being abused. Under Tennessee law, those found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor may be charged up to $10,000.

Norris said the way the bill is drafted, one could argue that it’s not designed to prevent animal cruelty but rather “to prevent the filming of animal cruelty under certain circumstances.”

“I don’t know why this bill doesn’t require those who witness animal abuse, whether they are filming it or not, to report it immediately,” Norris said. “This actually creates exceptions.”

Norris said the bill “sort of suggests” that it would be OK for somebody who likes to film animal cruelty to do it, because the person is not doing it for the purpose of exposing it.

Norris indicated he thinks the legislation came about as a result of “an incident that was filmed in (Gresham’s) district.” He added, “We shouldn’t be passing bills because of a particular incident like that.”

In May 2012, an undercover Humane Society-shot video showing a Tennessee walking-horse trainer mistreating horses aired nationally. Earlier this month, three people were indicted by a grand-jury in Fayette County on charges stemming from alleged “soring” of Tennessee Walking horses. Fayette County is in Gresham’s district.

Gresham, who is in her second term as a senator after serving two terms in the House, said she understood her colleagues’ struggles with the bill, but defended it by saying it “is very narrowly tailored in a specific way.”

She said the bill was directed toward livestock because agriculture, which is written across the state seal, “is our identity. We take care of our animals, and we will not have people abuse them, and certainly not allow the abuse to continue for the sake of documentation.”

Noting that some have called it “an anti-whistle blower bill,” Gresham argued it is just the opposite.

“What I’m saying in this bill is, ‘Whistle blower, blow your whistle and take what you have to law enforcement because that’s where it belongs,’” she said. “Investigations and documentation, if that’s what is required, needs to be done by law enforcement not by vigilantes.”

She acknowledged that while the inspiration for her bill “may be distantly related to an event in my district,” the fundamental concern is to stop abuse.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis suggested that the bill be rolled until next week and Gresham agreed. “If we can make it stronger, it is my pleasure to work on the bill,” she said.

The bill was rolled to next Tuesday’s Senate floor session. The companion House Bill 1191 was referred to the Calendar & Rules Committee on March 26. It has yet to be placed on the calendar for the lower chamber’s vote.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

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NewsTracker

Cities Considering Annexing Land Better Hurry

Property owners across the state will have a two-year reprieve from forced annexation – and the tax increases that come with it — if a bill moving in the Tennessee Legislature becomes law.

The original intent of Senate Bill 279 was to require a majority vote for annexation by qualified voters before a city could annex their land. The amended bill unanimously passed the Senate State & Local Government Committee Tuesday.

Sen. Bo Watson, who has brought some version of the legislation for six years, said the bill “seeks to remedy an obvious flaw in the current law, a flaw that has been addressed by 47 other states. That flaw is our current law gives no voice to the citizens subject to an annexation ordinance.

“It is in effect annexation without representation, ergo it is taxation without representation,” said the Republican from Hixson.

The amendment brought by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris made the bill and sent it, along with five other pieces of legislation, to the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies” in Title 6.

TACIR is made up of public officials from state and local government, as well as private citizens, and seeks to work out problems between different layers of government.

Norris, who is also the chair of TACIR, said that one of the “unintended consequences of this fine legislation” was that a number of cities were accelerating the pace of annexation.

To stop cities from annexing additional land while the TACIR review is underway, the amendment would impose a moratorium on annexations that are in progress but not completed. The ban would extend from April 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

The second reason Norris gave was that in 2012, TACIR started looking at Title 6, which was codified as a result of Public Chapter 1101, also known as the Growth Policy Act, in 1998.

PC 1101 required local officials within each of 92 non-metropolitan counties to work together to shape growth policy through the development of 20-year growth plans. However, the act did not impose a single, statewide solution.

“Our counties and towns are pretty much at year 15 through that process,” Norris said, adding there has never been “a stop, look and see” about how cities are doing in the planning process.

“Now we have this bill and maybe six or seven other bills all sort of taking bites out of 1101, and we don’t have a way of really fully absorbing what the impacts will be, not only on our constituents, but the counties or the cities in which they live,” the Collierville senator said.

Five other bills dealing with either annexation or development or growth were also sent to TACIR for study by the committee. (Story continues below graphic.)

AnnexationBills

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, sponsor of two of the bills (SB1316 and SB 1381) sent to TACIR, wanted clarification on the moratorium.

“This would be a moratorium on hostile annexation, but still permit the petition annexation?” she asked.

Watson said the amendment “does not prohibit consensual annexation. It allows for that if that’s what one would chose to do.”

He added that while the amendment “doesn’t solve the problem we’re seeking to solve, it is a step in the right direction. I know the chairman of TACIR is on this committee, and I would expect that this particular aspect of annexation would be specifically addressed by TACIR.”

Sen. Ken Yager, chair of the Senate committee, expressed his appreciation for “the cooperative attitude” of Watson and House companion bill sponsor, Rep. Mark Carter, R-Chattanooga, as well as Norris’ work on the issue.

“I think it’s properly characterized as a time out to give us a chance to look at it, and it is a step in the right direction,” the Republican from Harriman said. “I appreciate your gentlemen’s leadership on this.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.