|This week’s Take Action Thursday reviews state efforts to pass legislation creating an animal abuser registry. It also presents two different rankings of state animal protection laws for 2013.
State LegislationThe first animal abuser registry was adopted in Suffolk County, New York in 2010 and several other New York counties have followed suit during the past three years. The purpose of the registry is to provide a resource for police, shelters and adoption centers to help identify convicted animal abusers who are involved in new allegations of abuse or who are trying to adopt an animal who may be put in harm’s way. Access to this information is crucial in keeping companion animals out of the hands of potential abusers. The idea of the registry, which is modeled on registries kept for convicted sex offenders, has gained popularity across the country, with bills introduced in 10 states in 2013. Five bills are still pending in states with a two-year session and two new bills have been introduced this year in Illinois and West Virginia. Alabama, Connecticut, Texas, Virginia and Washington considered but did not pass this legislation in 2013. While legislation in some states makes the information on the registries available only to law enforcement and animal control and shelter facilities, in other states this information may also be available to the general public. There are advantages to each approach and all are worth supporting.
The following states still have active legislation—please take action to support this legislation if you live in one of these states:
Illinois bill HB 4188 was newly introduced in 2014.
Massachusetts has introduced four separate bills, three which deal specifically with animal abuser registries, S 807, H 1335, and H 1416, and one, S 1914, which also tackles other issues, such as requiring mandatory reporting by veterinarians of suspected animal abuse, increasing penalties for animal cruelty, and providing for the forfeiture of animals seized in abuse cases unless a security is posted by the owner.
Michigan has two sets of companion bills, HB 4535 and SB 377, which would create an animal abuse offenders registry and HB 4534 and SB 378, which would require the use of the animal abuse registry by animal shelters in considering applications for adoptions.
New York has multiple bills aimed at creating an animal abuser registry, some of them based on the specific language of laws already adopted in individual New York counties. One bill, S 2305, passed the Senate last year but, because it was not considered in the Assembly last year, it was referred back to the Senate Agriculture committee at the beginning of the new year. Also under consideration are: A 4516, A 6951, A 7363, S 1594, and S 5036.
Pennsylvania is considering companion bills HB 265 and SB 320.
Vermont is considering S 92.
West Virginia bill SB 92 was introduced this year.
Legal TrendsReviewing the rankings of states regarding their animal cruelty laws and their record on animal protection issues can be a challenge, especially when two different groups come up with very different rankings. In December, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) issued their animal protection law rankings for 2013, which “assesses the strength of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws by examining over 4,000 pages of statutes.” The laws considered include felony animal cruelty, neglect, fighting, and abandonment provisions, penalties for abusers, forfeiture of abused animals, mandatory reporting requirements by veterinarians and social service agencies, and authority of police and humane officers to enforce animal protection laws. The ALDF rankings also provide a thorough analysis of trends and how individual states have improved their status over past years.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also revealed its humane state rankings for 2013. HSUS considers for its ranking “public policies dealing with animal cruelty and fighting, pets, wildlife, equines, animals in research, and farm animals.” The HSUS report compares rankings, but also has a map to view information on individual states. The results of the two rankings were vastly different, with only Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon and Washington making the top ten lists from both organizations, though not necessarily in the same order. Illinois and Oregon were among the top three states on both lists.
Among the bottom of both lists were Alabama, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. According to ALDF, more than 75% of all states showed an improvement in their animal protection laws in the past five years. With the passage of a new animal cruelty provisions in North Dakota in 2013, South Dakota remains the only state without a felony animal cruelty provision. See the organizations’ individual listings for each group’s ranking of the worst (and best) in 2013.