One more ag-gag bill bites the dust! Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the bill after the state legislature passed it, protecting his state from travesties like the silliness that happened in Utah, where a woman almost went to jail for standing on a public sidewalk and recording what was plainly visible at the slaughterhouse across the street. Utah eventually dropped the charges against her.
We have many others on our side as well. A number of prominent Tennessee residents opposed the bill, including “300 Tennessee clergy, Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013.”
In addition, “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.” It would also “require intentional documentation of animal abuse be handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours.”
Governor Haslam explained his veto: “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.” (Making it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases is exactly the intended consequence, but I’m sure Haslam had his reasons for failing to say so.)
The “Shield Law” that Haslam referred to is a Tennessee free speech protection “which protects journalists’ ability to collect information.” Ag-gag laws are meant to do the opposite: protect information’s ability to remain secret, when that information is about animal torture in agricultural businesses.
Unfortunately, Haslam signaled that this battle may not be over. He suggested that the legislature should continue studying the issue and pass a clearer bill. Whatever he meant by “clearer,” it probably wasn’t “more anti-cruelty” or “more pro-animal” or “saner.”
The Humane Society of the United States, which played a central role in the battle against the Tennessee bill, reports that “of the 11 states that have introduced such ag-gag legislation in 2013, none have passed it” — so far. Keep speaking out, signing the petition, contacting your state legislators and generally raising hell — especially if your state is showing signs of considering ag-gag legislation. Don’t let them trample the First Amendment, and don’t let them protect the horrors of factory farming and other animal abuse — like soring Tennessee walking horses — by keeping the public in the dark.