This week the House Agricultural Affairs Committee in Idaho approved a measure that defines animal torture and creates a felony penalty for a third conviction of abusing companion animals.
The bill, HB 111, was sponsored by Chairman Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, in what one would hope was an altruistic effort to protect animals, but is really nothing more than an attempt to stave off a ballot initiative to toughen state laws later.
Idaho was one of three states that had no felony penalty on the books for animal torture or repeat offenses until last year when a law was passed that would result in felony charges if perpetrators had two prior convictions in the past 15 years. HB 111 offers the same penalties, only without the time limitation.
Idaho 1 of 3, an umbrella group of animal advocacy organizations, worked on a ballot initiative for tougher cruelty laws in the state which would have made torture a first offense felony. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.
When asked about the new law, spokeswoman Virginia Hemingway told the Idaho Statesmen it does little to stop abusers.
Representative Andrus has given me the opportunity to provide input on the animal cruelty issue in the last two years. I want to commend him for at least trying to pass legislation that will begin to stop animal cruelty. He is working in an atmosphere that is very intolerant of felonies for animal cruelty.
Unfortunately, as a result of the intolerance in the legislature, we are once again faced with a piece meal ‘it’s better than nothing’ bill. The bill that allows someone to commit torture three times on an animal before they are charged with a felony is absolutely appalling. We are talking about torture; not forgetting to leave water for your dog one day or not providing adequate shelter.
The legislature is telling everyone that it is fine with them if you knowingly and willfully inflict ‘unjustifiable and extreme or prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering.’ They are also telling those who have production animals that they can commit torture and there will be absolutely no consequences because this bill only applies to companion animals i.e. pets.
While some applaud any efforts to strengthen laws, others are equally skeptical.
“It’s possible that if passed, House Bill 111 could in the future be amended to significantly enhance the penalty for malicious acts upon animals and that hope could be a basis for support. However, we are concerned that this placebo of a bill will be marketed as an actual cure by the legislature. House Bill 111 does not solve the problem of Idaho’s weak cruelty laws,” said Idaho Humane Society Executive Director Jeff Rosenthal, DVM.
Progress on this front has been hindered by ag groups who finally caved to support this bill in the hope that it will appease people enough to stop them from pursuing another ballot initiative, which they fear may affect agricultural practices, but that might be wishful thinking on their part.
“The legislature needs to realize they are ignoring the wishes of more than 50,000 Idahoans. We are seriously considering doing an initiative for the 2014 ballot which will make torture a first offense felony because I believe if you are willing to tolerate three convictions of torture; you are condoning torture,” said Hemingway.
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