Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
May 7, 2013
It is unimaginable that even a small fraction of Tennesseans would want to make investigating cases of animal abuse more difficult. And yet that is the intent of legislation before Gov. Bill Haslam, who has the option to sign, veto or, without taking a stand, allow the so-called “Ag Gag” bill to become law.
One of the most blatantly misrepresented pieces of legislation in recent memory, House Bill 1191/Senate Bill 1248, which narrowly won legislative approval last month, would require photos or video recordings of horse and livestock abuse to be turned over to police within 48 hours of the recording, or allow anyone who gathers such evidence to face a fine and a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
It is no coincidence that evidence leading to the indictment of a Fayette County horse trainer for the alleged abuse of Tennessee walking horses in 2011, like evidence gathered in many other undercover investigations, took much longer than 48 hours to compile.
It is no coincidence that the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, introduced the measure after an unsuccessful attempt to make it a criminal offense “for a person to apply for employment with the intent to cause economic damage to the employer by means of unauthorized recording of video or audio while on the premises of the employer and releasing such recordings to a third party.”
It is no coincidence that similar legislation has been introduced in several states as part of a national attack on activists who have used the only means available to them — the collection of video evidence — to require decent and humane practices in the care of animals to consume or show off at horse shows and fairs.
It is the definition of disingenuous on the part of Gresham and Holt to look their constituents in the face and claim that their aim with these efforts is to prevent animal abuse.
In considering whether to issue a veto, which would stand a good chance of being upheld, Haslam should listen to Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who correctly pointed out that the legislation would criminalize filming, not abuse. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, Norris said, “should be ashamed” of its support of this legislation. “The implication of this bill is that it’s OK to abuse animals but it’s not all right to film it if you don’t tell anybody about it” immediately, Norris said.
Allowing this bill to become law would reinforce the image of politics as the most cynical game in town. More important, it would make it easier for people who profit from fear and pain inflicted on helpless animals to continue their cruel practices.