We commend Gov. Bill Haslam for his veto of legislation that would have made criminals out of Tennesseans who attempt to expose cases of animal abuse.
Haslam cited a number of legal and constitutional reasons for rejecting the “ag gag” bill, and he was correct in doing so, but the governor’s decision was also the humane thing to do. It was the moral thing to do, the ethical thing to do and simply the RIGHT thing to do.
A majority of Tennesseans were outraged to learn the state General Assembly had passed this terrible bill before leaving Nashville in April, and they let the governor know what they thought he must do to prevent it from becoming law. The bill was written to require that any person who video tapes animal abuse — such as the horrific case of “soring” that was exposed two years ago at horse stable in West Tennessee — to turn over the evidence within 48 hours or face criminal prosecution.
This requirement would have a chilling effect on efforts to prove long-term patterns of abuse. It would also severely impede efforts by journalists to investigate cases of suspected animal abuse and weaken Tennessee’s Shield Law for reporters. The governor cited these concerns with his veto on Monday.
Perhaps state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, made the best argument against the bill when she told her colleagues during debate on the legislation last month that its passage would serve to “intimidate and punish those who seek to discover if a crime has been committed rather than punish those who commit crimes.”
We have no doubt sponsors of the ag gag bill will try again. That’s why we encourage Tennesseans who care about the humane treatment of all animals to contact their lawmakers and let them know this vile piece of legislation should never again reach the governor’s desk.
In particular, we ask local residents to contact area lawmakers who supported passage of ag gag — state Reps. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Timothy Hill, R-Blountville; Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; and Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport — and urge them not to make the same mistake again. Contact information for every member of the General Assembly can be found at www.legislature.state.tn.us.