Attorney General calls 'ag-gag' bill 'constitutionally suspect' - WKRN News 2

Attorney General calls 'ag-gag' bill 'constitutionally suspect'

Posted: Updated: May 9, 2013 07:25 PM

The controversial "ag-gag" bill narrowly passed this session by Tennessee lawmakers, and while awaiting action from Governor Bill Haslam, has been called "constitutionally suspect" in an opinion by the state's Attorney General Robert Cooper.

The bill, which has drawn national attention, requires any group photographing or gathering information on animal abuse, to report the incident within 48 hours to law enforcement.

Critics, which included country star Carrie Underwood who Tweeted she would "show up at the Governor's door if he didn't veto the bill,"  say the measure would have a chilling affect on newsgathering or groups trying to stop animal abuse.

The measure grew out of a Tennessee Walking Horse video filmed two years ago by the Humane Society of the United States.

The group showed abusive practices against the horses at a Fayette County trainer's stables. The trainer was later convicted in federal court.

The bill's sponsor Republican Sen. Delores Gresham lives in Fayette County where the abuse took place.  

The Attorney General's opinion, which was sought by Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville, said the measure "is constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment on three grounds:" 

  1. The scope of HB1191's requirements is underinclusive relative to the governmental interest in preventing cruelty to livestock;
  2. HB1191's requirement to provide any recordings of livestock cruelty to law enforcement could be an impermissible prior restraint; and
  3. HB1191's reporting requirement could be found to constitute an unconstitutional burden on news gathering."  

Most observers believe the opinion could give Governor Haslam some cover for a veto because the ag-gag might not hold up in court.

Rep. Stewart said as much when he told Nashville's News 2 late Thursday that "the ball is now in the governor's court."

Governor Haslam has three options for the bill which include signing it, vetoing it or letting it become law without his signature.

He has until Wednesday by law to decide what he will do.

On Thursday night, the President and CEO made a statement regarding the bill. The statement read:

"Any bill that tries to punish those who expose cruelty, rather than those who perpetrate it, is wrong-headed and reckless. Now we know it's constitutionally deficient, too. Governor Haslam has a superabundance of legal and citizen input that should prompt him to veto this overreaching, awful measure," said Wayne Pacelle."

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