Editorial: Haslam deserves praise for veto of the so-called ag gag legislation

May. 15, 2013 @ 11:42 PM

With a supermajority of Republicans in the House and Senate, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam seemed to have it made when he took office two years ago. Instead he sometimes has to act as traffic cop to save the state from foolish and overreaching legislation passed by members of his own party. Fortunately, he is prepared to do that.

On Monday Haslam wisely vetoed a bill that would require images that document animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours. He said his main concern was the bill’s constitutionality. An opinion by State Attorney General Bob Cooper last week backed that up. Cooper said the bill would be “constitutionally suspect” because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection.

Haslam said the AG’s opinion was among at least three reasons he vetoed the bill. He said it appeared to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law, which protects journalists. A third reason for the veto, Haslam said, was that some DAs were concerned the bill makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, “which would be an unintended consequence,” Haslam said.

When you have three solid reasons not to approve a piece of legislation, that’s a sound case for a veto. It is clear this bill was pushed as retaliation for an animal rights group’s undercover operations to expose cruelty to Tennessee walking horses. Many spoke out against the bill dubbed the “ag gag” bill. They correctly 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.

Of course, those who sponsored the bill will come back next session with another one, seemingly changed to reflect the concerns. It will be impossible to put lipstick on this pig. It would be best to let this idea die the death it deserves. It won’t. It will be back with a new name, new wording and the same consequences. That’s not what the Republican supermajority was meant to be doing.