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Letter From the Editor

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On April 18th, the Tennessee House and Senate passed what's been termed the "ag gag" bill. This piece of legislative flimflammery requires that anyone who takes video or photos of animal abuse must turn over said photographs or video to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Proponents of the law say it's designed to help prevent animal cruelty, but this is pure horse puckey. The law, identical to those proposed in many other states, is the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing, corporate-funded outfit that's helpfully writing corporate-cuddly legislation for GOP legislators all over the country.

The real purpose of the law is to stifle investigations of corporate food-factory animal abuse or cruel and unhealthy conditions for animals being bred or trained for sale. It might better be termed a "First Amendment gag" law, since it's intended to deter activist organizations and the media from reporting on offensive or illegal practices.

It's beyond absurd. What if ALEC next decides we shouldn't have anyone reporting on corporate pollution (not that far-fetched an idea)? They could write a law stating that all video and photos of polluted streams and illegal landfills and belching smokestacks must be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours. I honestly think many of the simpletons in the Tennessee legislature would jump on board.

It's a textbook example of what's gone wrong with our governing process. It's become a top-down process driven by special interests, not the will of the people. There was absolutely no public demand for this law. None. In fact, I would wager that, if surveyed, the great majority of Tennesseans would say they didn't want it. The only ones behind this bill are corporate lobbyists. And our legislators dance to their tune like puppets on a string.

I don't believe the law as written would stand up in court, and the Knoxville News Sentinel has already declared that it would ignore the law — as would the Flyer. But, if passed, the law could — as it was no doubt intended to do — deter some media outlets, activist groups, and individuals without the money or fortitude to take such a case to trial.

The "ag gag" bill has been sent to Governor Haslam to sign. It only passed by a bare majority in the House, and if Haslam vetoes it, the veto might even be sustainable. Will he do the right thing? As of this writing, he was still undecided, his usual default status on anything controversial.

The Tennessee legislature is all about protecting the Second Amendment and the right for citizens to bear arms. The First Amendment and the right to bear cameras? Not so much, apparently.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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