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May 3, 2013

Bill to Criminalize Animal Cruelty Whistlblowers Reaches Governor’s Desk, Continues to Draw Criticism

Tenn.—As the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill SB1248 was finally transmitted to Gov. Bill Haslam for his decision—two weeks after being passed by the legislature—more than 300 Tennessee clergy joined First Amendment and animal welfare groups urging a veto. The governor has until May 15 to either pass or veto the bill into law. If he takes no action by then, the bill automatically becomes a law.

Ten Tennessee newspaper editorial boards are urging a veto as well, while no papers are supporting the bill. Meanwhile, Miss Tennessee USA 2013 also called for a veto joining the likes of singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris as well as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to talk about the issue.

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS said: “It’s time for Gov. Haslam to show Tennesseans that he is listening by vetoing this special interest legislation that would criminalize whistleblowers. Instead of protecting animal abusers, the governor can support transparency and integrity in horse stables and our food system by rejecting this bill.” 

SB1248 would make it a crime for investigative journalists and public interest charities to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities.

In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and burned with caustic chemicals. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.

The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light had this ag-gag bill been law.

 Facts

  • The HSUS placed a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean that includes quotes from ten Tennessee newspapers editorializing against SB1248.
  • Pacelle sent a letter to Gov. Haslam stating that if SB1248 is signed into law, “it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
  • Tennessee native singer Carrie Underwood tweeted, “Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who's with me?”
  • The HSUS and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a television commercial at the state capitol showing footage from the undercover investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry and calling on the governor to veto SB1248.
  • Singer Emmylou Harris wrote a letter on Friday asking Gov. Haslam to veto the bill.
  • Of the 11 states that have introduced such ag-gag legislation in 2013, including Arkansas, none have passed it.  

Media Contact: Anna West: 240-751-2669; awest@humanesociety.org

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