Ag-gag bill chokes in Tennessee
It appears ag-gag bills can’t even hoof it in farm country: Tennessee joins a roster of states who are strangling ag-gag bills before they can reach the killing floor.
Tennessee lawmakers had narrowly approved a bill that would have required anybody who filmed animal abuses to turn over the footage to law enforcement within 48 hours or risk being fined. That would have prevented undercover animal activists from documenting systematic animal abuse by agricultural workers, helping factory farms get away with cruelty.
But Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called BS on the bill and said that he plans to veto it. From a statement issued by the governor on Monday:
First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law [which protects journalism] 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.
Ag-gag bills have been spreading through the U.S. faster than mystery disease at a Chinese swine farm. Some have become law, but others are being withdrawn, defeated, or vetoed. Grist’s Susie Cagle produced this interactive map last month to provide an overview.
Food Safety News reports that Haslam’s veto might make it less likely that other states will adopt such questionable bills:
Six states have adopted “ag-gag” laws. Iowa, Utah, and Missouri passed such legislation last year. Kansas, Montana and North Dakota did so back in 1990-91. No one can find much in the way of prosecutions under these laws, but that could be because animal welfare groups might be less active in those six states.
This year, “ag-gag” bills have fallen short. Wyoming adjourned before there could be a vote in the second house. Indiana’s chambers could not agree after passing differing versions. The bill’s California sponsor dropped it in that state. And now Tennessee’s bill died in a gubernatorial veto.
State legislatures are quickly shutting down for the year. Of the 50, 20 have already adjourned sine die. Many others will do so before June. A couple that meet into the summer, such as Nebraska and Pennsylvania, could still pass another “ag-gag” this year.
But the Tennessee veto makes that less likely than it was before the Haslam veto.