Animal Abuse Law Contains Unexpected Consequences

Nevada lawmakers gave animal rights advocates a new law making abuse or torture a felony, but they may also have made investigations more difficult.

Cooney

Last June, animal rights advocates were declaring victory with passage of a bill making animal abuse a felony,

Today they're worrying a little noticed amendment may make investigations of the crime even harder.

SB 223 became known as Cooney's Law, named for the mixed breed killed by her master who was literally gutted her with a box cutter.

More than anything her story formed the narrative for change, but that change apparently came with an unintended consequence and it may prevent similar stories from ever being told.

Late in the session an amendment was added to the bill.

Everyone agrees the intent was to protect the identity of someone making a report of abuse by prohibiting release of their name, the same sort of protection currently granted to someone reporting a neighbor's weed choked yard to a home owner's association or code enforcement officials.

Instead the bill drafter's language appears to prohibit the release of the report itself, in fact making it a misdemeanor.
T
he irony is the law may now prevent the public from knowing about the kind of abuse that led to its passage and the public may be unable to monitor the justice system's enforcement.

"We can't tell the public what's going on," says Tom Jacobs of the SPCA of Northern Nevada, "and that may mean we can't get information about what someone may have seen. We also can't educate the public."

A spokesman for the Legislative Counsel Bureau says that may not be so.

Lorne Malkiewich says the bill only bans release of the report, but may not prevent law enforcement or an animal welfare agency from using the tip to launch its own investigation and revealing the results of that probe.

Local agencies say, however, Washoe County legal advisers are giving the law the stricter interpretation.

If that view holds, the apparent gag rule may remain in effect until the law is changed. That can't happen until the next legislative session in 2013.


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