Court challenges to horse-processing plant development in Tennessee could be costly if a bill currently pending in that state’s legislature becomes law.
In 2007 a combination of legislation and court rulings shuttered the last remaining horse slaughter plants in the U.S. Domestic horse processing became possible again in November when Congress passed an appropriations bill restoring revenue for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) horsemeat inspections. Since then, processing plants have been proposed in Missouri and Oregon. According to bill text, Tennessee HB 3619 is intended to attract processing plant developers to that state. In Tennessee, pending legislation is intended to attract processing plant developers to that state, according to the bill’s sponsor.
As originally introduced by Tennessee State Rep. Andy Holt, HB3619 instructed the state’s commissioner of agriculture to post equine-related statistics on its website and to make that data available to the Tennessee Equine Association at that organization’s request. Shortly after its introduction, Rep. Frank Niceley amended the bill instructing circuit or chancery courts to require a surety bond from anyone who files a court action challenging permits or licenses issued to processing plant developers.
The amendment sets the value of the bond at 20% of the facility’s estimated construction cost, or 20% of the operational cost of an existing facility. Also under the amended bill, those who bring cases that the courts deem without merit would be ordered to pay attorney fees and court costs connected to the case. Those who lose their cases connected to functioning plants could be liable for operators’ case-related financial losses.
Members of the Tennessee House Agriculture Committee passed HB3619 on March 13.
Holt said that the surety provisions contained in the bill are intended to prevent large, well-financed organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and others from initiating long, costly court battles over processing plant development in Tennessee.
“We want the jobs and the economic boost connected to processing plant development,” Holt said. “We’ve got to incentivize (pant developers) somehow.”
But HSUS Tennessee State Director Leighann McCollum Tennessee said the proposed measure is fundamentally flawed.
“The bill takes away the Constitutional rights of every citizen and every local government, and gives legal protection to a particular industry” said McCollum. “That’s unacceptable.”
Holt denied the allegation on grounds that an indigent clause contained in the bill ensures the rights of potential litigants who cannot afford to post the surety bond. However, Holt said that some of his legislative colleagues have also voiced concern over court-access aspects of the bill. Those issues will be addressed in an amendment to be added to the bill before it goes before the full Tennessee House of Representatives for a full vote on April 9, he said.
Meanwhile, a twin bill, SB3461 is currently pending in the Tennessee Senate.
About the Author
Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.