Usually when someone trying to make a point with a new law eliminates the penalty for disobeying it, things settle down. Old legislative wags say that’s how a law becomes a suggestion.
But in Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam has ten days (excluding Sundays), to sign or veto new laws, folks have gotten more stirred up over the bill passed by the state Legislature about reporting animal abuse, which officially reached the executive’s desk on April 23.
And penalty or not, both sides see what happens to the companion measures – officially known as Senate Bill 1248 and House Bill 1191 – as still very important, perhaps because the outcome may help decide whether the so-called “ag-gag” movement has any future.
Since his legislature adjourned, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed plenty of bills, including those that reduce taxes on food, implement tougher sentences for gang members, increase scholarships for low income people, and more. But whether he signs or vetoes SB 1248/HB 1191 remains unknown, and if he does nothing by Saturday it becomes law without his signature.
Tennessee has seen plenty of star power trying to persuade the Governor to veto the bill. Country star Carrie Underwood, Game show star Bob Barker, and TV comedian Ellen DeGeneres have all weighed in. The Ellen DeGeneres Show on the NBC network last week aired a segment with Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United Sates (HSUS), to help campaign for a veto.
Taking them all on is Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), who was prime sponsor for the House side of Tennessee’s ag-gag law. Most noticed Holt’s aggressive defense when he got into a “twitter war” with Underwood, suggesting that she stick to singing.
However, as it turned out, Holt’s hair was on before the bill passed, and he was especially irritated about HSUS working the issue. He decided to lob an email that everyone is still talking about at HSUS staffer Kayci McLead back on April 17th. Here goes the exchange:
From: Andy Holt [email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 11:26 PM
To: Kayci McLeod
Cc: Andy Holt
Subject: RE: Please Oppose HB 1191
I am extremely pleased that we were able to pass HB 1191 today to help protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation that propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists, who are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women. You work for a pathetic excuse for an organization and a pathetic group of sensationalists who seek to profit from animal abuse. I am glad, as an aside, that we have limited your preferred fund-raising methods here in the state of Tennessee; a method that I refer to as “tape and rape.” Best wishes for the failure of your organization and it’s true intent.
State Representative – District 76
Weakley & Northern Carroll Counties
205 War Memorial Building
301 6th Ave. North
Nashville, TN 37243
From: Kayci McLeod [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:44 PM
To: Andy Holt
Subject: Please Oppose HB 1191
Dear Representative Holt,
Have you seen the editorial in the Tennessean today opposing HB 1191, the whistleblower suppression bill intended to cover up animal cruelty?
The Tennessean editorial board condemns the bill, noting that the “bill would certainly take our state in the wrong direction, toward more senseless violence.”
We very much hope you’ll agree with the Tennessean and oppose this dangerous bill. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Public Policy Coordinator
Farm Animal Protection Campaign
The Humane Society of the United States
Holt’s “tape and rape” email has turned some probably unwanted attention on him. Holt Farms won a Farm Bureau/Farm Credit contest for its swine operations in 2012 that included a new GMC truck as a prize. Farm Bureau wants the “ag-gag” bill signed into law. The email might also have spurred HSUS into reportedly airing paid television time urging a veto.
Shortly everyone will know if persons who record animal abuse violations in Tennessee must report them to local law enforcement within 24 hours and turn over the unedited documentation. Holt says the half-page law is intended to spur quick reporting of animal abuse. HSUS says the law makes it impossible to conduct undercover investigations into animal abuse, and they say that’s why it was passed.© Food Safety News