Tennessee’s proposed “Ag Gag” law suffered a setback Thursday when the state’s attorney general labeled it “constitutionally suspect” and said it could violate freedom of the press and the right against self-incrimination.

The bill, awaiting either Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature or veto, would force anyone who purposefully took pictures or video of livestock abuse to turn those over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

That limits the media, incriminates those who captured the video through trespassing and exposes police to copyright problems should the public ask for copies, Attorney General Robert Cooper wrote.

Haslam has until Wednesday to either sign or veto the bill, his spokesman confirmed, but the governor’s office offered no further comment. If he took no action at all, it would pass into law automatically, with those who broke it facing a $50 fine.

The bill’s author, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he didn’t see a constitutional problem and compared its provisions to forcing medical doctors to report suspected child abuse.

A hog farmer and relentless critic of the Humane Society of the United States, Holt said the only reason someone would want to videotape animal abuse and hang onto it would be for profit.

“If people are engaged in criminal activity, it will be abundantly apparent.  “No it will not” You don’t have to have two months to provide clarity to law enforcement,” Holt said. “Ask yourself this question: Should an animal have to suffer an abusive situation for two months?” “Those animals will suffer whether being videod or not, if they are already in an abusive situation; often the management don’t know their animals are being abused. To ensure a conviction, evidence has to be collected over a period of time, so people can’t say it was a “one off” act of violence…FFS people…open your eyes. Those who want Ag-Gag laws must want them for a reason!!”

A two-month undercover investigation by the Humane Society led to state and federal animal abuse charges last year against famed Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell of Collierville. The group released stomach-turning video of McConnell beating a horse and of its legs being chemically burned to encourage the breed’s prized longer, higher gait.

Holt said his bill has nothing to do with that case. Instead, it would prevent video of legitimate animal husbandry being represented as inhumane and used for fund raising, he said.

Humane Society leaders held a news conference earlier Thursday at Gaylord Opryland Convention Center, where the group is holding its Animal Care Expo. They denounced Holt’s bill and called upon the Tennessee attorney general’s office to investigate the walking horse industry.

A letter from the group to Cooper cites a 76 percent positive rate on U.S. Department of Agriculture tests for foreign substances on horses’ legs at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration last year in Shelbyville.

“We need to know what perversion looks like and not be a part of any activity to either celebrate it, encourage it or somehow honor it,” said Dr. Michael Blackwell, president of the online Humane Society University.

Mike Inman, the Celebration’s CEO, didn’t respond to messages left Thursday but has said that walking horse trainers found McConnell’s actions deplorable. He said the industry is striving for 100 percent compliance with the federal Horse Protection Act.

Written by Heidi Hall The Tennessean

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