- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill over what he called an unintended consequence of reducing the criminal penalties for pollution in Tennessee.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and fellow Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was aimed at penalizing retail vandalism by “flash mobs.” It had passed the Senate 29-0 and the House 63-31.

Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville had raised concerns in April that the measure would make all pollution punishable as a misdemeanor regardless of the amount of monetary damage done to the property.

Stewart had tried to amend another bill to address the change, but the move was rejected by the Republican-controlled chamber.

Stewart on Thursday lauded Haslam’s decision to veto the bill.

“Hopefully, this is the last time we will be asked to vote for bills that would actually cut the penalties for criminal polluters who profit by ruining their neighbors’ land,” Stewart said.

Haslam said in his veto message that he was motivated to turn back the measure to protect what he called the “unparalleled natural beauty” of the state.

“We have to protect our land and water for future generations so it remains an attractive place for people to live, work and raise a family,” Haslam said. “For this reason, I have vetoed this legislation.”

Campfield said in a phone interview that he had not intended to change the penalties for pollution.

“I wish the governor would have talked to me if he had any concerns before the bill passed,” Campfield said. “But it’s the governor’s prerogative to change his point of view.”

It’s the second year in a row that Haslam has vetoed a bill sponsored by Holt. Last year, the governor turned back legislation that would have required people to turn over any images of animal abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours of it being captured.

Opponents dubbed the measure the “ag-gag bill,” arguing that it was aimed at preventing long-term undercover investigations into abuse of livestock.

Holt did not answer calls seeing comment.

Haslam’s only other veto was of a 2012 bill targeting Vanderbilt’s “all-comers” policy, which required student groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office.

Some religious groups said the policy forced them to allow members who don’t share their beliefs. Haslam said he disagreed with Vanderbilt’s policy, but that it would have been “inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”

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