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VOL. 37 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 26, 2013

Haslam unswayed by celebrities opposing 'ag-gag'

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SMYRNA (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he was not swayed by celebrities opposing a bill that would make it a crime to video record animal abuse if it isn't turned over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.

The bill was passed by Tennessee lawmakers and the Republican governor said he will decide whether he will veto it or let it become law with or without his signature after weighing constitutional questions and philosophical arguments.

"We've gotten a lot of calls on this, some of them from Tennesseans, some of them from out of state people," Haslam said. "At the end of the day we want to come back to looking at: Is it good policy? Is it constitutional? And do we think it's something that will actually help the welfare of animals and livestock?"

The governor's office has yet to receive the bill from the General Assembly. Once it arrives, Haslam has 10 days to veto it or let it become law.

Singers Carrie Underwood , Emmylou Harris and Miley Cyrus have spoken out against the measure, which opponents call the "ag gag" bill.

They argue the measure would put an end to extended undercover operations, such as the one by the Humane Society of the United States that exposed how trainers subjected Tennessee walking horses to beatings and caustic burns. Trainer Jackie McConnell, whose stable was in Senate sponsor Dolores Gresham's West Tennessee district, subsequently pleaded guilty in federal court in September.

Haslam said he hasn't spoken with any celebrities about the matter. He said he's also seeking input from farming and cattle interests.

"There are a lot of agriculture people who feel like this isn't about just people who mistreat animals," he said. "There's strong feeling from the agriculture community that there are some people who don't value what we do."

The bill passed by the narrowest margin possible in the House - gaining just 50 votes in the 99-member cham ber. Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, a key Haslam ally, abstained on that vote, while Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was a vocal opponent.

Meanwhile, other prominent Republicans like Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga voted in favor of the legislation sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden.