Mar. 7, 2005 Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed anti-cruelty animal legislation for the second time in four months. The law is seen by supporters as an effort to bring the V.I. laws on the treatment of animals in line with most areas under the United States flag. Each time the bill was sent to him it had the unanimous approval of the Legislature first the 25th Legislature, and most recently with the full vote of the 26th Legislature. (See "News Brief: Governor Vetoes Anti-Animal Cruelty Bill").
Four independent polls indicate that 90 percent of the people concerned about the territory support the bill. Three polls taken by the Source newspapers and one by a News2 Poll, show the following:
– News2 – 92 percent for; 8 percent against
– St. Thomas Source – 89 percent for; 10 percent against
– St. Croix Source – 87 percent for;12 percent against
– St. John Source – 93 percent for; 6 percent against.
Turnbull seems not to see the intent of the legislation as other observers. Joe Elmore, Humane Society of St. Thomas executive director, said Monday morning, "I don't think the governor understands the spirit of the bill and its rationalization."
The day after the Senate passed the bill in February, Elmore said, shelter workers were greeted with the body of a pit bull who had been disemboweled alive with a sharp instrument and left to bleed to death in front of the shelter.
The governor gave examples of ramifications of certain sections of the bill. He cited a "little old lady" driving at night and hitting an animal and being unable to find its owner. In another instance, he wondered if rats were protected. One Source reader has called his examples "ridiculous."
(See "Governor Has Little Knowledge About Animal Cruelty Bill").
Elmore said that his disappointment is with the governor's steadfast refusal to meet with animal advocates. "There has been no dialog between the executive branch and the animal community," Elmore said. "We represent thousands of people. No member of his staff has ever attended any of the hearings on the bill. The governor is badly misinformed. He is not educated on the legislation."
In response to what he terms the governor's "fearmongering," – his objection to stiff penalties – Elmore said, "The penalties for certain abuses are actually more lenient than federal law, for instance removing eggs from a bird's nest, which can be a fine up to $15,000 in federal statutes. Moreover, any decision to prosecute will be made by the Attorney General's office. Prosecutorial discretion would mitigate any undue consequences."
"Actually," Elmore said, "the governor's statements affect every section of the V. I. Code. Considering the 'what ifs', you would have to go back and repeal every section of the code. The check and balance is the court system. That's how the law works."
The Humane Society of St. Thomas on Sunday released a statement on the veto. (See "Humane Society Calls for Senate Override").
The next step, once again, will be a move for a Senate override of Turnbull's veto. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the bill's primary sponsor, was not available for comment Monday morning.
Elmore said "We will really have to work hard with the senators to guarantee an override, after Turnbull's fearmongering statements."
He said he wants to make clear that his disappointment is not personal with the governor; it is with Turnbull's apparent reluctance to listen to the whole story.
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