Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam wrestles with whether to sign 'ag gag' bill

photo Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam said today he continues to wrestle with whether to sign or veto a bill that makes it a crime to video or record cases of animal cruelty unless the material is handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

"At the end of the day it comes back to is it good policy? Is it constitutional, and do we think it's something that well actually help the welfare of animals and livestock?" Haslam told reporters following an education event at a Smyrna elementary school.

Critics have dubbed the measure the "ag gag" bill, charging it is designed to quash independent efforts such as the undercover investigation that revealed how state-based trainers beat and used caustic substances to burn the hooves of Tennessee walking horses.

Asked if he thought it was a good idea philosophically speaking to limit would-be whistle blowers, Haslam said, "we're looking at that versus the folks who sponsored the bill and voted for it. The majority of the legislators who voted for it who felt like, OK, if we have that information and you think somebody is being harmed you should turn that information over immediately. That's all part of what we're weighing now."

The bill has yet to reach Haslam's desk. Once it does, he has ten days, excluding Sundays, to decide whether to sign or veto it.

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Or, the governor could allow it to become law without his signature, which he did on a controversial bill dealing with the teaching of evolution in Tennessee public schools.

Proponents of the bill say if independent groups or reporters are serious about stopping abuse, they should readily turn the information over to law enforcement.

Officials with the Humane Society of the United States, whose videos of walking horse abuse fueled a federal investigation, say the bill is aimed to discouraging probes because it takes time to document abuse sufficiently to be used in legal proceedings.

The would-be law subjects anyone failing to turn over documentation within 48 hours to a misdemeanor fine of $50.