More than 150 animal advocates from the state descended on the state capitol Tuesday for Humane Lobby Day.
The advocates took their fight for animal protection straight to lawmakers in light of several animal welfare bills to be considered this legislative session.
One of the biggest proposals is the Animal Fighting Enforcement Act (HB0132/SB0285).
In recent years, law enforcement agencies statewide have rescued chickens and canines from fighting rings and have arrested ring leaders.
The bill before legislators would increase penalties for spectators of such crimes.
“We're talking about people who are throwing animals into a pit top fight to the death, and these people pay an admission fee to watch it. They gamble on it,” said Leighann Lassiter, Tennessee State Director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
She added, “We feel like they're knowing participants in that activity and they should be punished as such, so this bill would increase the penalty from a $50 fine to a $2,500 fine.”
Lassiter was in Nashville to represent HSUS, the nation's largest animal protection organization, and to show support for the legislation against animal fighting, but also to denounce what many call the “Ag Gag” or “Anti-whistleblower” bill (HB1191/SB1248).
The “Ag Gag” bill, which failed to pass last year, would put strict regulations on individuals or organizations that document animal cruelty for the purpose of seeking legal action.
“Where last year, it was just photographing and video was an offense, and now it's pretty much anything that you do. The way the bill is written, it's any action by any means or contrivance. That could be anything, reporting any type of cruelty that you see,” Lassiter said. “And the person who did it can be charged with a felony [under the bill].”
Last year, legislators were provided a petition from nearly 6,000 Tennesseans who were against the bill.
As part of Tuesday's plea for tougher animal protection laws, Senator Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Representative Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who sponsor the Animal Fighting Enforcement Act, were honored with Humane Legislator Awards for their efforts.
Humane Lobby Day also coincided with World Spay Day, an annual campaign by the HSUS that highlights spay/neuter programs as a way to save the lives of companion animals as well as stray cats and dogs.