GOP gets bills from business backers

photo A Tennessee walking horse looks out from his stall in Chattanooga.

Tennessee's Legislature and its ruling Republicans rely far more on the rich corporate collaborators that fund and guide ALEC - the American Legislative Exchange Council - than most Tennesseans will ever know.

As in most of the nation's GOP-controlled legislatures nowadays, most of the Tennessee Legislature's business-friendly giveaways, cash incentives for development, partisan and anti-worker reforms of worker compensation and insurance laws, and school voucher and charter school legislation, is concocted or driven by ALEC's deeply partisan, pro-business backers.

So are our legislators' recently adopted campaign financing loopholes, which now make it so easy for elected officials to scoop up lobbyists' cash and to rely entirely on cash campaign donations - the previous limit was 50 percent - from business-funded Political Action Committees. Similarly, ALEC's GOP/tea party loyalists have helped gin up the union-killer bills (think teachers, firemen and police unions) seen broadly among Republican state legislatures the past several years.

And to keep their partisan loyalists and supporting voters in tow, ALEC and its National Rifle Association niche supporters also help circulate pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-health-care reform measures - measures, again, widely circulated and advocated in Nashville.

The ubiquitous use of such ALEC-spawned bills has become so prevalent in Nashville that lawmakers in a previous session adopted a rule forbidding their use of such bills to be identified publicly in the legislative process as ALEC model bills. But it's not hard to spot ALEC-backed legislation once one questions the source or reasoning behind specific bills.

Take the so-called model legislation now before the Tennessee Legislature which, its Tennessee sponsors say, is intended to stop or prevent animal cruelty.

If adopted as law, it would require anyone gathering evidence of animal cruelty or abuse to report such a finding to authorities within 24 to 48 hours, and to promptly turn over any video or pictures of such evidence within this time frame. Its advocates say the bill is intended to facilitate the urgent need to stop animal abuse.

Baloney. It's transparent purpose is to prevent animal-rights advocates from quietly accumulating sufficient documentation to show a court that animal cruelty is wrongly and deliberately used in some slaughterhouses and animal training facilities.

This newspaper's Pam Sohn, for example, wrote frequently last summer about the common practice of regularly soring the hooves of Tennessee Walking horses and other gaited breeds to produce sufficient pain to a show horse to prompt the high-stepping movement known as "the big lick." Soring involves chemicals, chains around the front hooves, and screws pressed into the top of the thick shoe pads that are strapped and chained to the horses' front feet.

Film surreptitiously taken by the U.S. Humane Society documented the routine use of soring Tennessee Walkers and generated arrests and, finally, a historic felony conviction against a well-known trainer and previous winner of Shelbyville's Walking Horse Celebration. The broad revelation of the tawdry but long-tolerated tradition of soring tarnished the Walking Horse industry and clearly upset its officials.

That's scant reason, however, to make it easy in Tennessee for animal abusers to identify - and thus thwart - those who would put themselves at risk to build a case against animal cruelty. If Tennessee lawmakers want such abuse of animals to end, they won't pass this ALEC-sponsored law.