Farmers, animal activists react to 'ag gag' veto

11:38 PM, May 13, 2013   |    comments
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The controversial "ag gag" bill is dead-- at least for now.

The thousands of people who asked Governor Bill Haslam to veto it are thanking him. But many others are upset he used his veto power for only the second time.

House Bill 1191 and its companion Senate Bill 1248 would have forced anyone who records images of animal abuse in this state to turn it over to police within 48 hours or face a fine.

A viral video featuring an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States triggered the bill.

Governor Haslam explained the reasons behind his veto.

"First, the attorney general says the law is constitutionally suspect. 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," said Gov. Haslam (R).

The author of the bill, Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) says he plans on bringing it back next year. Holt said he is working with the attorney general to craft a bill that will have the same goal, but ease the governor's legal concerns.

The veto is drawing reactions out of both sides.

"I think he used great judgement to veto it," said Gino Bachman, the president of Blount County's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

"I'm a little disappointed," said part-time farmer and Loudon County's UT Extension Agency Director, John Goddard.

Bachman and Goddard have a lot in common. They both love their livestock. They both investigate animal cruelty cases for their jobs. But when it comes to the "ag gag" bill, they don't share the same opinion.

On the one hand, Bachman and other critics of the bill say it punishes the whistleblower more than the abuser. In addition, they say it prevents those whistleblowers from gathering enough evidence to build a case for police action.

"Regardless of what type of case it is, most cases take more than 48 hours to develop," said Bachman, "It was restricting people from going into these animal abuse industries and going undercover and taking extensive video and gathering intelligence before they went back and prosecuted."

Goddard suggests otherwise. He and other farmers say with the bill, authorities can act fast, and without it, animal abuse can continue.

"We need to have the evidence quicker rather than someone hanging on to it for a week or month and making a documentary, while the animal continues to decline," said Goddard.

Goddard and other supporters also say the types of recordings targeted in the bill are out to show them in a false light and often use short clips that misrepresent the action.

"99% are doing the right thing. It's that 1% that gets all the attention," said Goddard.

While the bill is done for this season, these are arguments that will likely surface again next legislative session.

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