Haslam Asks Tennessee Legislature To Reconsider “Ag Gag”

Supporters of the bill said it would protect farmers from unfounded allegations made by people who didn't understand best practices for livestock husbandry. Opponents claimed it would hamstring important undercover work at farms that use improper and inhumane methods. Credit: Keith Weller/USDA

Supporters of the bill said it would protect farmers from unfounded allegations made by people who didn’t understand best practices for livestock husbandry. Opponents claimed it would hamstring important undercover work at farms that use improper and inhumane methods. Credit: Keith Weller/USDA

Gov. Bill Haslam will veto a bill that would have required animal activists to turn over footage of livestock cruelty to police. The legislation passed the General Assembly by just a one-vote margin.

A statement from his office gives three reasons, the first being the Tennessee Attorney General opinion calling the proposal “constitutionally suspect.”

The bill also appears to repeal parts of the Tennessee shield law for journalists. “If that is the case, it should say so,” Haslam says in a statement.

There are also concerns from district attorneys that the legislation could actually make it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases. Haslam calls this an “unintended consequence,” without going on to explain. Animal rights groups say law enforcement depends on outside groups to collect evidence to prove a pattern of abuse.

Haslam says he will veto the ag gag bill, while acknowledging why farmers are upset. He’s going out of his way to say he understands why the agriculture industry feels “besieged.”

“I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods,” he says. “I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong.”

Gov. Haslam gave a speech to the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce Monday. He defended his veto there, receiving a smattering of applause from the mostly-business group.

The sponsors of the animal cruelty bill say in a joint statement that they “respect Governor Haslam’s decision.” Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) also say they will come back with a “more legally enforceable bill.”

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