Haslam explains ‘Ag Gag’ veto, contends agriculture community ‘besieged’ by urban mentality

Monday, May 13, 2013 at 12:13pm
Updated: 3:50 p.m.
051313 Haslam ag gag topper.jpg
Gov. Bill Haslam explains to reporters his concerns over the so-called "Ag Gag" bill. (Andrea Zelinski/SouthComm)


Using his veto power for only the second time since taking office, Gov. Bill Haslam rejected the Livestock Protection Act on Monday.

In a statement, Haslam said that Attorney General Robert Cooper found the act to be “constitutionally suspect” and that he was concerned about a number of issues within the bill.

Explaining the decision to the business community in Williamson County, he couched the issue as balancing the need to address a dying understanding of animal agriculture with legal concerns of restructuring animal abuse laws.

Many in the agricultural community “are very concerned about the future of animal agriculture because they feel like as our state, country become more urban, there’s just more people who don’t understand what’s involved,” Haslam told the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon in Franklin. “There’s a sense in which I think that community feels besieged, to be honest with you.”

The governor announced early Monday he would veto the legislation, pointing strongly at the attorney general’s opinion illustrating First and Fifth Amendment concerns, consternation among some district attorneys that the act makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, as well as under the radar changes to the Tennessee Shield Law which protects journalists from revealing their sources.

“I feel like this bill does change the Shield Law, and I feel like if you’re going to change any law, you should say we’re changing that law,” Haslam told reporters after addressing the local chamber, adding he’s “not saying” the protections for journalists need to be revisited.

Although debate over the legislation was divisive at times, the bill’s sponsors Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) said in a joint statement they want to get all stakeholders involved to “craft a better and more legally enforceable bill” next year.

“There were thousands of people who weighed in on this issue and we plan to work with all interested parties in the coming months to draft a bill that will protect animals and ensure those people who abuse livestock are brought to justice,” read the joint statement.

Animal rights groups and First Amendment advocates have been vociferously lobbying the administration for weeks, arguing that instead of protecting animals, the act actually targeted whistleblowers who investigate patterns of cruelty. A number of news organizations argued that it placed a prior restraint on newsgathering.

“We appreciate that Gov. Haslam recognized the backdoor attempt to repeal the Tennessee Shield Law and stopped it — for now at least,” said Frank Gibson, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Press Association, in a statement. “If the bill had stood it would have impeded the work of news photographers and reporters and others seeking to document animal cruelty.”

Animal rights activists — who flooded the governor’s office with phone calls, emails and petitions — applauded the governor’s decision to reject the bill.

“It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States who pushed hard for a veto of the bill.

The legislation would have imposed a $50 fine on anyone who knowingly takes photos or video of animal abuse and fails to report it within 48 hours. Advocates for the measure argued the act would allow law enforcement to quickly react to animal abuse allegations, while opponents said the bill was a reaction to a high-profile animal abuse case of West Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell who was captured on several videos abusing horses.

Holt, who sponsored the legislation rewriting animal abuse reporting criteria, has been operating a hog farm in Dresden without a proper permit for four years. The governor said he didn’t know enough about farm permits to comment.

In the governor’s three years in office, Haslam has rejected one other bill. He vetoed the "All-Comers" bill last year, which targeted Vanderbilt's policy of forcing all campus organizations to be open to all students.


11 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 5/13/13 at 10:24

"makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence."

Actually that WAS the intended consequence.

He finally made a sensible decision; it only took 2 1/2 years.

By: pswindle on 5/13/13 at 12:11

He knew that he could not help his buddies on this issue.

By: chetuno on 5/13/13 at 4:57

"Many in the agricultural community “are very concerned about the future of animal agriculture because they feel like as our state, country become more urban, there’s just more people who don’t understand what’s involved,” Haslam told the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon in Franklin. “

Actually, the urban consumer understands exactly what is involved and is much more astute then Tennessee agribusiness realizes.

By: Libertine on 5/13/13 at 7:59

Actually the urban consumer has no idea of what is involved and perhaps the urban consumer should be required to participate in the urban consumer's food chain so they would have a clue?

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 5/14/13 at 7:13

Gresham and Holt (and the supporters of this legislation) show callous disregard for God's creatures. It is sad that the state legislature has degenerated to this point.

By: chino on 5/14/13 at 9:30

Who's besieged? I think its the other way around. The Urban community feels besieged by rural mentality.

Thats how we got Haslam and a super majority Republican congress.

By: yucchhii on 5/14/13 at 9:37

Haslam as well as any other politician (Democrat or republican) are CRIMINALS! I don't care what Haslam says...I TRUST "NO" POLITICIAN! Go ahead, make a law that says I have to turn my vids or pics of animal cruelty over right away...I will make a serious SCENE and will make sure the country hears about it BEFORE I turn it over!! The politicians will be in the SPOT LIGHT right along with the abusers as ACCOMPLICES!!! I "WILL" GET THE WORD OUT ABOUT IT ALL...GO AHEAD, SEND ME TO JAIL..BUT NOT WITHOUT YOU KNOWING WHO PUT YOU OUT THERE FOR THE COUNTRY TO SEE!!! BUNCH OF CRIMINAL IDIOTS!!!

By: 1J9B5B7 on 5/14/13 at 11:09

Hey, yucchhii! Thanks for showing us what the typical HSUS/PETA member is like and just why some type of legislation is needed to address this issue and keep folks like you in check.

By: Captain Nemo on 5/15/13 at 7:43

Haslam has done the right thing by his veto.

I did not vote for him, but there was no way I could vote for his Democrat opponent, He was the best of the bunch. Now if he survives Pilot Gate.

By: jonw on 5/15/13 at 1:06

Hey, "i.am.a.taxpayer"

Genesis 1:26-28
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

By: ancienthighway on 5/15/13 at 3:39

Where is it written that Man can beat and torture animals?