When Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill last year that would make soring a Tennessee Walking Horse a Class E felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, it seemed like Tennessee was finally trying to do something about being the only tribe of people in the world who intentionally harm their native animals in order to collect a blue ribbon.
Because there is a huge loophole – anyone who is trying to “train” a horse is exempted – the slimy Big Lick crowd of the walking horse industry can and will do as they have done for the last fifty years. Tomorrow the “Big Lick” will try to add insult to injury, if you will pardon the pun, when the state legislature is expected to pass an atrocious bill that – get this – would make the those who take covert pictures and videos of animals being abused the criminals instead of the heroes.
Andy Holt, a farmer from Dresden, Tenn., calls people like those who took the world-famous video of trainer Jackie McConnell savagely beating and torturing horses last year as “vigilantes.” The bill he has pushed through the Agriculture Committee demanded at anyone who takes pictures and/or videos must surrender them to authorities within 24 hours or be charged with a misdemeanor.
Anybody who has ever watched CSI or any crime TV knows full and well such a bill is Godsend to a thug. In this day of criminal investigation, the bill is clearly and cleverly designed to protect a villain who drives a nail in a horse’s pastern so the animal will pick its hooves up higher. While it is no secret Holt is in bed with the “Big Lick” crowd, what is puzzling is that fellow committee member Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga) forwarded the bill, as did Chattanooga’s Todd Gardenhire, now in the state Senate.
Newspapers and news announcers across the state have demonized the senseless bill. “It’s a very bad bill,” said Frank Gibson, the public policy director of the Tenn. Press Association. “It in effect will repeal a section of the Tennessee Reporter’s Shield Law that has been on the books since 1973. Under this law a reporter working on a story that takes longer than a day, as most stories do, would be guilty of a crime.”
When the famed video of the sadistic McConnell was made in 2011, officials of the Humane Society of the United States turned it over authorities long before it riveted the nation’s attention to the rampant abuse spawned by a perverse crowd in Shelbyville, Tenn. Federal prosecutors in Chattanooga soon became the first to successfully prosecute the men who have violated the federal Horse Protection Act in a wanton manner despite the fact the law has been in effect since 1970. (McConnell was fined $75,000 and placed on three years of probation.)
Worse, there are still no federal laws against horse abuse with teeth; a Federal judge was able to label McConnell a felon but he has yet to spend one night in jail. McConnell has an extensive record of horse soring and abuse, dating back some 30 years but will not go to trial for his 2011 video antics until July on this year. No wonder Rep. Andy Holt – and horse sadists – want a 24-hour window with their AgGag bill.
McConnell pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month on state charges that were filed as the result of the tape but legal sources say that is just a ploy. “He can cop a plea during bargaining with the defense and walk with one misdemeanor. What’s that to Jackie … maybe a $100 fine.”
In Saturday’s editions of the New York Times, a scathing story revealed a group called The American Legislative Exchange Council is behind AgGag bills in a growing number of states to protect the food industry. In Iowa a covert tape showed chickens laying eggs right next to rotting dead birds, workers snapping off the beaks of young chicks and burning up live birds. The tape caused fast-food giant McDonald’s to quit buying eggs from the rogue company.
Further, the ALEC has a proto-type bill they call “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” which sounds nice but all it really does is keep the vigilantes from, as it puts it, “defaming the facility or its owner.” Anybody who jabs a screwdriver into the eye of a pig ought to be “defamed.” The same holds true for anyone who would rub caustic acids and pastes on a horse’s forelegs, even if scurrilous trainers is trying to “instruct” the animal and can skirt the present-day Tennessee law.
If, indeed, HB1191 comes before a vote by the legislature tomorrow, it should be known pretty quickly how each of our representatives across the state that leads the world in horse abuse voted on such a stinkin’ bill. Then the public can deal with those who side with the likes of a felon named Jackie McConnell.