The Tennessee House today will vote to make it a crime to videotape animal cruety or abuse and then fail to make that evidence available to law enforcement within a 48-hour period. Yesterday, the sponsor of a similar bill in California pulled his measure from the agenda about three hours before it was supposed to get a key committee vote because it was already too hot to handle. In Alabama, state Rep. Jim Patterson’s bill gives those recording animal abuse 120 hours to turn their evidence into law enforcement. In Tennessee, the expected favorable House vote today will send the “ag-gag” bill to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his expected signature. It already passed the Tennessee Senate earlier this week on a 22-to-9 vote. The one-page Tennessee bill only addresses the reporting requirement. It does not address two other elements often found in “ag-gag” bills—prohibitions on taking photographs or video without the permission of the owner, and penalties for obtaining employment without disclosing motives to investigate for animal abuse. Instead, in Senate Bill 1248 and House Bill 1191, Tennessee seeks to “require a person who intentionally records by photograph, digital image, video or similar medium for the purpose of documenting the offence of cruelty to animals committed against livestock, within 48 hours, or by the close of business the next business day, whichever is later, to:
- Report such violation of a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the alleged offense; and
- Submit any unedited photographs, digital images, or video records to law enforcement authorities.
Anyone violating the new Tennessee law would be found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine. Farm lobbyists say such reporting requirements would help stem animal abuse. Animal activists say “ag-gag” laws are intended only to shut down their investigations, which are typically carried out by undercover personnel who require two to six weeks to establish a pattern of abuse. In California, Rep. Patterson of Fresno pulled his “ag-gag” bill before it was scheduled for a vote by the Assembly Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. While introduced with farm support, AB 343 has come into for stiff opposition, especially from newspapers and media organizations. “We are pleased to see the bill shelved,” said Jennifer Fearing, California state director for the Humane Society of the U.S. “The problem isn’t the rate at which animal cruelty is disclosed to authorities—but with the rampant cruelty itself. Industrial farming operations should be run so well that videos could never capture anything they wouldn’t want their customers to see.” In addition to Tennessee, both the House and Senate in Indiana have passed differing versions of “ag-gag” bills, and are now trying to work out differences in a conference committee with an adjournment deadline of April 29. Last year, Iowa, Utah, and Missouri adopted various versions of “ag-gag” laws. These kinds of laws first surfaced more than 20 years ago, when they were adopted in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota. Legislative sessions are still underway in half a dozen states where “ag-gag” bills are pending. Most notable of those are Pennsylvania, Nebraska and North Carolina. Investigations by activists into animal abuse have become common in the U.S. Usually evidence is turned over to local law authorities for prosecution. The HSUS reports that convictions have followed its investigations into a Chino, CA slaughterhouse, Vermont veal calf operation, and most recently a Wyoming pig farm. The California investigation led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history because HSUS document how “downer cows” were entering the human food supply, which is prohibited under federal law as a food safety violation.