This morning I was reading with excitement that Idaho has a felony animal cruelty bill that passed the Senate Agriculture committee and is headed to the full Senate for a vote. But then my excitement quickly waned as I read what this legislative bill actually covers.
Idaho is one of three states that does not have a felony animal cruelty law. Normally I would be praising the introduction of felony animal cruelty legislation as a recognition that crimes against animals needs to be treated seriously, but in reading the bill language, this bill provides very little to protect animals.
- A person would only be charged with a felony if they have 2 prior convictions within a 15 year time period. A conviction only involves a guilty plea or a guilty conviction, not a no-contest plea.
- A person would only be deemed to have one conviction regardless of how many criminal charges are filed and how many animals are involved.
- And the felony penalty is only a maximum of 12 months in jail, the absolute bare minimum to be considered a felony.
So if you are cruel to 100 cats and dogs in one incident, you only receive one felony conviction on your criminal record, and only if you have 2 prior convictions. For all of the effort that it takes to introduce and pass animal protection legislation, it makes me wonder why a bill with little power is being considered? From my experience, there are behind-the-scene powers that have significant influence on legislation that is not known to most voters.
Provisions that make for a solid felony animal cruelty bill include: a deterent penalty (a minimum of 4 years to 10 years); charging one felony count for every animal harmed or killed; the ability to charge felonies based on the current incident and not based on whether there are prior convictions; using prior animal cruelty convictions to increase the felony penalty (charge as a habitual offender); banning the defendant from possession or ownership of animals; and mandatory psychological testing and counseling.
So while my excitement was quickly doused this morning, I think we can all agree that Idaho has the power to do better. So what can you do to help? Since the bill has already passed the Senate Agriculture committee and is headed to the Senate floor, amendments at this point can be difficult, but not impossible. If you live in Idaho, please contact your legislator and ask them to speak with the bill sponsor about why the provisions in the bill are weak and to lend support towards a stronger bill. If you live outside of Idaho, please do not contact the legislators as this can negatively impact animal protection legislation. But please share this information with anyone who lives in Idaho.
Voters have tremendous power to influence legislation, so now is the time to speak up for animals in Idaho. To learn more about how to become an animal advocate, pick up a copy of Defending the Defenseless: A Guide to Protecting and Advocating for Pets.