Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) on Monday announced he would veto controversial legislation that would have made it harder to expose animal abuse.
“Our office has spent a great deal of time considering this legislation,” he said in a statement. “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.”
The so-called “ag gag” bill would have required that evidence of animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face criminal charges. The bill’s sponsors said the proposal would ensure animal cruelty was quickly investigated.
But groups like the Humane Society of the United States said the true purpose of the bill was to prevent undercover activists from exposing cruelty on factory farms.
“This legislation would have criminalized individuals, including journalists, seeking to document and expose animal cruelty, violating their First Amendment rights,” said Hedy Weinberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. “Governor Haslam’s veto of Tennessee’s ‘Ag Gag’ legislation is a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Tennessee.”