Gov. Haslam vetoes 'ag gag' bill, cites 'number of concerns'
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill that would require images documenting animal abuse to be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
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 Monday that the opinion is one of the reasons he's vetoing the bill.
The governor released the following statement regarding the matter:
"Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee. 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. Our office has spent a great deal of time considering this legislation. We've had a lot of input from people on all sides of the issue. After careful consideration, I am going to veto the legislation. Some vetoes are made solely on policy grounds. Other vetoes may be the result of wanting the General Assembly to reconsider the legislation for a number of reasons. My veto here is more along the lines of the latter. I have a number of concerns. 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. For these reasons, I am vetoing HB1191/SB1248, and I respectfully encourage the General Assembly to reconsider this issue."
Animal protection groups say the measure they have dubbed the "ag gag" bill is designed to prevent whistleblowers from collecting evidence of ongoing patterns of abuse.
The veto is Haslam's second since he took office in 2010.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and The Humane Society of the United States said they support the governor's veto.
"We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system," said Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS.
"This legislation would have criminalized individuals, including journalists, seeking to document and expose animal cruelty, violating their First Amendment rights," said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. "Gov. Haslam's veto of Tennessee's 'Ag Gag' legislation is a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Tennessee."
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