Marsh, Tracy 'disappointed' by veto

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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."

The Shield Law, to which Haslam referred, protects reporters from having to reveal confidential sources or information to a court or the General Assembly. It's meant to protect the news-gathering process, including the use of confidential sources, from government interference.

Bedford County's state legislators, State Rep. Pat Marsh and State Sen. Jim Tracy, had both voted in favor of the legislation and described it as a way of protecting animals by making sure that abuse is dealt with quickly.

"I think this could cause animals to be abused when they don't have to be," said Marsh, saying he was "disappointed" by the veto.

Tracy said he understood that concerns had been raised about the bill's constitutionality but promised he would work with its Senate sponsor, Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), to fix those issues in the next legislative session.

"I've always been against any kind of animal abuse," said Tracy. "I felt like this bill would help protect animals."

"I'm sure the governor had a lot of pressure on both sides," said Marsh.

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."

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, said "It's the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it. We are grateful to Governor Haslam for hearing the clear voice of Tennesseans and ending this debate so emphatically."

At one point during the bill's passage through the House, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, had attempted to exempt news reporters, photographers and bloggers from the bill's requirements. That amendment was not successful.

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

The governor's statement

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statement regarding HB 1191/SB 1248:

"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," Haslam said.

"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."