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Tennessee considers bill to allow horse slaughterhouses

Tennessee considers bill to allow horse slaughterhouses

The Tennessee legislature is considering a bill that would "encourage" the location of horse slaughterhouses and processing plants in Tennessee.

The bill would also make it difficult for citizens who live near the proposed slaughterhouse sites to challenge them in court.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he sees it as both a jobs bill and one that's more compassionate because horses sent to slaughter now are transported to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, where the closest plants are currently located.

But an array of opponents -- including humane associations and real estate executives -- say equine slaughterhouses have a long history of animal cruelty, polluting their communities and hurting property values.

Senate Bill 3461 is scheduled for review today in the Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Committee. The House version, HB 3619, has won committee approvals and was set for a floor vote Monday night. But when it was called up, Holt postponed debate until April 9.

Equine slaughterhouses were effectively banned in the United States in 2007, when Congress deleted funding for their inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill passed by Congress in November restored funding and opened the door, according to the Humane Society of the United States, to a resumption of equine slaughter within the country.

The bill requires anyone who goes to court to challenge a permit for such a facility to post a surety bond equal to 20 percent of the cost of building the new plant or of operating an existing facility. A plaintiff who does not prevail "is liable for all financial losses the facility suffers" if the court halts operations while the lawsuit is pending, and in some cases may be liable for attorneys' fees paid by the operation's owners.

Memphis real estate broker Marshal Gordon wrote lawmakers in opposition to the bill and said Monday that "property values will plummet" if a horse slaughter plant is located in a community. And he said the bill's unusually high surety-bond provision would essentially block property owners and homeowners associations from challenging them in court.

The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are also opposing the bill.

"Horse slaughter plants have a very long history of polluting the environment, of animal cruelty, of devaluing property and generally running roughshod over rural communities," said Leighann McCollum, the humane society's Tennessee director.

"This bill is not about the horse slaughter debate at this point. It's about Tennesseans' constitutional right to have access to the courthouse. This bill closes courts to litigation to everyone except the wealthy."

Holt said he knows of no one planning a processing plant and that he filed the bill to help create jobs in the state and because he believes a facility in the state required to operate a "controlled and humane environment" is a more compassionate way of dealing with aging horses.

Staff reporter Cindy Wolff contributed to this story.

Source: The Commercial Appeal

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