Tennessee governor vetoes 'ag gag' bill

5/13/2013 11:30 AM
By By Lucas L. Johnson II Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday vetoed a bill that would require images documenting animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, saying his main concern is its constitutionality.

State Attorney General Bob Cooper last week said in a legal opinion that the measure would be "constitutionally suspect" because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection.

Haslam said the opinion is among at least three reasons he's vetoing the bill.

"First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect," the Republican governor said in a news release. "Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee's Shield Law without saying so. If that is the case, it should say 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."

A number of groups and celebrities have spoken out against the proposal they have dubbed the "ag gag" bill. They say the bill is designed to prevent whistleblowers from collecting evidence of ongoing patterns of abuse.

The Humane Society in 2011 secretly filmed video inside a training stable showing caustic substances being applied to Tennessee walking horses' legs and hooves, and the animals being beaten to make them stand. Trainer Jackie McConnell pleaded guilty in federal court in September.

Haslam said he understands the concern of the agriculture industry.

"Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee," he said. "Farmers play a vital role in our state's economy, heritage and history. I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee was among the groups that lauded Haslam's decision.

"This legislation would have criminalized individuals, including journalists, seeking to document and expose animal cruelty, violating their First Amendment rights," said ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg, adding the veto "is a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Tennessee."

The veto is Haslam's second since he took office in 2011.

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