published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Bill Haslam vetoes retail vandalism legislation

NASHVILLE — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill proponents argued was aimed at retail vandalism caused by "flash mobs," saying the amended U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed bill actually had the "unintended consequence" of slashing criminal penalties for polluters.

"The original intent of this bill was to define and penalize retail vandalism," Haslam said in a statement. "In a review of the amended legislation, it has been determined that the bill had the unintended consequence of reducing the criminal penalties for certain types of polluting in Tennessee."

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden.

"I think it was an amendment that nobody really caught that was doing the damage," Campfield said. "It was a good-intentioned bill. I think everybody knows that. There was an amendment that was added, that I didn't add. ... It changed it and got into an area it didn't need to get into."

Campfield said, "I look forward to working on this bill next year without the amendment and get it all cleared up."

Haslam's veto drew praise from Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who previously attacked the bill as a "Trojan horse bill designed to help corporate polluters."

Stewart charged Thursday that the bill "was amended at the last minute to make vandalism in the form of pollution punishable only as a misdemeanor, no matter the monetary amount of property damage done as a result of pollution."

Businesses or individuals intentionally polluting a stream or property now can face felony charges carrying sentences of more than a year imprisonment and substantial fines. The bill would have reduced the crime to a misdemeanor punishable by up a year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

Stewart called Haslam's veto "great news for Tennessee's farmers and property owners who could have been harmed by this mislabeled legislation."

During the House floor debate in March, Holt said the bill was aimed at allowing prosecution of "flash mobs" if their activities disrupt business at retail businesses or damage merchandise.

A flash mob is a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing something unusual or entertaining.

The bill drew Haslam's third veto in nearly 3 1/2 years in office. Last year, he vetoed Holt's "ag gag" bill, which critics said was intended to discourage investigations of animal abuse by groups like the Humane Society of the United States.

In 2012 Haslam vetoed a bill that effectively banned private Vanderbilt University's policy that school-sanctioned groups may not discriminate on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

electric chair

Tennessee has decided to bring back the electric chair.

Haslam on Thursday signed a bill into law allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event the state is unable to obtain drugs used for lethal injections.

Tennessee lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the electric chair legislation in April, with the Senate voting 23-3 and the House 68-13 in favor of the bill.

Information also provided by The Associated Press.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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