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Gov. Haslam should veto ‘ag gag’ bill

Staff Report • Apr 26, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Tennessee lawmakers have wrapped up their business for the year. It was one the shortest sessions of the legislature in recent memory, and its brevity is one of the few positive things you can say about the first half of the 108th General Assembly.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is certainly proud of the limited time he and other lawmakers spent in Nashville this year. Ramsey, released a statement last week noting the April 19 adjournment marks the earliest the legislature has completed its business since 1990. Also this year, lawmakers used the least amount of paid legislative days since 1976.

But while legislators are done with their work, Gov. Bill Haslam still has a few chores to complete. He has a number of bills to sign into law. Animal lovers and investigative reporters across the state, however, hope he will use a veto pen on at least one of those bills. In particular, we urge Haslam to veto the so-called “ag gag” legislation that is aimed at punishing those who secretly chronicle cases of animal abuse in this state.

Haslam has not commented on what he is likely to do, although sponsors of this terrible piece of legislation have said they expect he will allow the bill to become law without his signature. He shouldn’t.

For anyone who watched the horrific video of the cruel practice of “soring” on the Internet last year, the governor’s veto is a no-brainer. The Humane Society of the United States used video shot secretly by its operatives in 2011 to call attention to the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses at a stable in Collierville.

The video shows trainers applying caustic substances to the horses’ legs and beating them to make them stand.

Before leaving Nashville last week, state legislators passed a bill to require operatives turn over video of such animal abuse within 48 hours or face criminal prosecution.

The problem with this legislation is that it would have a chilling effect on efforts to prove long-term patterns of abuse. It would severely impede efforts by journalists to investigate cases of suspected animal abuse, and chips away at Tennessee’s Reporters Privilege Shield Law.

Perhaps state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, made the best argument against this bill when she told her colleagues the legislation would serve to “intimidate and punish those who seek to discover if a crime has been committed rather than punish those who commit crimes.”

Let the governor know you think he should come down on the side of decency. Call Haslam’s office at 615-741-2001, or email him at bill.haslam@tn.gov, and ask that he veto this legislation.

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