The Humane Society of the United States is trying to ratchet up pressure on Gov. Bill Haslam to veto legislation that would require people catching animal abuse on camera to hand those images over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
The group has begun running television commercials featuring undercover video of abuse of horses, images that were key in a recent investigation targeting walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell that took about a year to stockpile.
“This was a model case in terms of exposing an abuse and bringing something to light that would have never come out into the public sphere,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, at a press conference in Legislative Plaza Monday.
“This is a preemptive strike against animal welfare groups and against the press to uncover and expose illegal animal cruelty,” he said, adding that the U.S. attorney interested in pursuing the case in the eastern district instructed the Humane Society to hold on to the video for months when investigating McConnell, who was later subject to a 52-count criminal indictment.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters are also opposed to the bill, and argue it has implications for journalists and penalizes whistleblowers.
Lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill in the final weeks of the legislative session said the legislation is aimed at making sure animal abuse is quickly reported so it can be addressed. Some also argued that people who don’t understand how to handle large animals might misinterpret what they’re doing as abuse.
Haslam told reporters last week he would look into the details of the legislation but did not hint whether it was a measure he would veto.