Wednesday, March 21, 2007

About Damn Time!

As of now there is no bill to protect animals from neglect. Now, we have two competing bills.
The Arkansas Senate and House passed competing bills Tuesday that would create Arkansas’ first felony offense of animal cruelty.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 777 by Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, 21-5. The felony of “aggravated cruelty” would apply in certain cases of torture, abuse and severe neglect of dogs, cats and horses. As a Class D felony this would be punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $ 10, 000.
The House passed House Bill 2788, which also refers only to treatment of dogs, cats and horses. A first offense of “aggravated cruelty” would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $ 1, 000 fine. A second offense within five years would be a Class D felony. It passed 57-26.
“I think the state needs to make a strong statement,” said the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs.
The bills now switch chambers. A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said the governor will sign whichever bill reaches his desk.
The measures differ in the definition of the offense.
The Senate bill says aggravated cruelty exists if a person tortures the animal or takes any other action for the purpose of inflicting or prolonging pain or kills the animal in an especially depraved manner. It says that means the offender “relishes the killing, evidencing debasement or perversion,” or shows indifference to the animal’s suffering.
SB 777 also would apply if a person fails to provide care that results in prolonged suffering or death or subjects one of those animals to certain types of injury or trauma in the presence of a minor.
The House bill defines it as knowingly torturing, mutilating, maiming, burning, poisoning or starving the animal.
HB 2788 is favored by the Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Poultry Federation, which have opposed past efforts to create a felony state animal-cruelty law.
The Humane Society and animal rescue groups prefer the Senate bill.
Under both bills, representatives of animal-welfare organizations could become authorized to execute search warrants to enforce the aggravated cruelty law, but only after being trained and certified by the state.
The training would include animal health and husbandry, and instruction on law enforcement procedure.
When serving the search warrants, the organizations ’ representatives would have to be accompanied by certified law enforcement officials.
The House bill would allow judges to order offenders into psychiatric treatment; the Senate bill would make such treatment mandatory.
The bills would expressly allow lawful veterinary care, the killing of animals to protect livestock and poultry, and exempt educational and research institutions regulated by federal animal-welfare laws.
The Senate bill passed with the support of Sen. Shawn Womack, R-Mountain Home, although it was reported on the Senate floor that Womack was in the hospital after suffering a “cardiac episode” at the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

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