NEW YORK—In response to the Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1248/House Bill (HB) 1191 Wednesday, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is urging Governor Bill Haslam to veto this dangerous anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation. SB 1248/HB 1191 is aimed at suppressing whistleblowers and protecting animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment.
This bill would require individuals who record cruelty to farm animals to report such violations and turn over their evidence to law enforcement officials within 48 hours. Superficially, the bill appears to be focused on preventing animal cruelty at agricultural facilities; in reality, the mandatory reporting provision that is the crux of SB 1248/HB 1191 would impose an arbitrary and short reporting deadline, precluding thorough investigations that could reveal a pattern of abuse. In addition, would-be whistleblowers could be dissuaded from turning over evidence after the prescribed period of time for fear of prosecution, and evidence that was turned over after the designated deadline could potentially be excluded from legal proceedings, thereby hindering prosecutions.
"The ASPCA urges Governor Haslam to prevent this harmful and unnecessary bill from becoming law," said Sherry Rout, state legislative director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Southern region, and Tennessee resident. "Tennesseans have a right to know about how animals in the state are treated and potential dangers regarding the production of our food supply."
SB 1248/HB 1191 would suppress whistleblower investigations on farms, which have been extremely successful in documenting the inhumane treatment of animals, uncovering crucial health and welfare information, and spurring many groundbreaking reforms. Should this bill become law, these types of investigations—such as the one last year that revealed the gruesome practice of beating and soring Tennessee Walking Horses—would remain hidden from the public. The video that was taken in this case led to a federal grand jury indictment of Jackie McConnell, a former trainer. McConnell was subsequently arraigned last month on 22 counts of animal abuse.
"The bill suggests that Tennessee's agricultural industry had something to hide," added Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA's Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. "We need additional transparency, not less, when it comes to animal welfare and food safety. Where there are problems, industry should direct its energy toward resolving them, not covering them."
SB 1248 was introduced in February by Senator Dolores Gresham, who represents the district where Jackie McConnell’s barn was located. A companion bill in the House, HB 1191 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt, was also introduced in February.
In addition to Tennessee, anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation has been introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming. No bills have been successful. The ASPCA is working to oppose these bills in all the states where they have been proposed. For more information on this issue, please visit www.aspca.org/ag-gag. To join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org/advocacy.