TN AG says so-called 'Ag Gag' bill constitutionally suspectPosted: Updated:
The Tennessee Attorney General's office said in an opinion released Thursday that a piece of legislation regarding the reporting of animal abuse is 'constitutionally suspect' and violates the First Amendment.
The Livestock Cruelty Prevention Act would require anyone recording images of animal abuse to submit unedited footage or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours.
The attorney general opinion said the bill's "requirement to provide any recordings of livestock cruelty to law enforcement could be an impermissible prior restraint" and "could be held to violate a person's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination."
Gov. Bill Haslam has 10 days from the time the bill reaches his desk to either sign it into law, veto it or do nothing - in which case it becomes law anyway.
For now, Haslam hasn't said which way he is leaning on the issue. He said previously he would wait until the attorney general reviewed the constitutionality of the bill to make a decision.
The attorney general's opinion comes on the same day animal rights advocates brought new allegations of abuse against Tennessee's Walking Horse community.
The Humane Society of the United States brought new allegations Thursday at its Opryland convention against the famed Walking Horse Celebration.
The group alleges the USDA found 76 percent of horses sampled at the 2012 show came up positive for chemicals used to sore horses' hooves in order to create a high-stepping gait.
The Celebration reported only a few horses turned up positive in its own investigation, but the Humane Society wants Tennessee to investigate and Haslam veto the abuse reporting bill.
"We are urging the governor to veto this overreaching, over-broad, dangerous legislation," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "We believe that it is not constitutionally defensible."
Opponents argue the bill would not only affect animal rights groups, but they say it would also affect anyone who reports abuse, including news reporters, neighbors even veterinarians.
The House bill sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, said he believes the bill is constitutional and that the legislation would only help law enforcement stop animal abuse sooner.
"We simply want an unedited copy go to law enforcement so they can document criminal activity themselves," Holt said.
Holt added he supports an investigation into the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration after hearing the USDA's findings.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.