NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today said he is vetoing a controversial "ag gag" bill that would require intentional documentation of animal abuse be handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
Haslam, who has wrestled with the issue for days, cited last week's legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, who said the bill's provisions are "constitutional suspect" as regards the First Amendment.
The governor also voiced concerns that it repeals part of Tennessee's "shield law," which protects journalists' ability to collect information.
Haslam said in a statement he understands farmers' support of the bill and their concerns about "large-scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong.
"Our office has spent a great deal of time considering this legislation. 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."
He indicated he would like the General Assembly to reconsider the issue and come up with a clearer bill.
"First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect," he said. "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."
The bill's sponsors, both farmers, said the measure was intended to ensure investigations of cruelty to livestock by groups like the Humane Society of the United States are acted on quickly by law enforcement.
But the Human Society charged it was really aimed at thwarting probes such as a successful 2012 investigation that led to a West Tennessee horse trainer pleading guilty to abusing a Tennessee walking horse.