Aug. 20, 2004 – Animal rights advocates plan to turn out in force on Wednesday when the Senate Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee takes up a bill that would increase penalties for animal cruelty.
"It's important that those who are violent toward animals be prosecuted and put in jail," Anne Marie Porter, a St. John resident who plans to attend the meeting, said.
The committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the legislative chambers on St. Thomas. The animal cruelty bill is the first item on the agenda.
This is not the first go-round for a bill to increase penalties for people who grievously hurt animals. Joe Aubain, president of the Humane Society of St. Thomas, recalled that a bill that wended its way through the Legislature some two and a half years ago died due to politics. He said some senators wanted cockfighting included and some didn't.
The bill now under consideration does not cover male fighting fowl.
Actually, it was on Aug. 30, 2001, that the Senate Rules Committee on a 2-2 tie vote killed the earlier measure. See "Pickard-Samuel, Bryan Kill Animal-Rights Bill".
Since that bill died, so have countless animals who were set on fire, left to starve in the sun, stabbed, mutilated, poisoned, drowned and abused in other ways too gruesome to report in the mass media.
"We have our horror album of graphic and horrific tortures," Aubain said.
He said as numerous experts also have said that studies have made it clear that animal abuse is linked to child abuse.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who sponsored the original legislation, is also the sponsor of the bill now up for a hearing. He could not be reached on Friday for comment.
Sen. Lorraine Berry chairs the Public Safety Committee. Her chief of staff, James Francis, said that members of the public who attend the meeting will have the opportunity to hear testimony on the bill.
"We will certainly send a strong message about what is happening in our community," Aubain added.
Porter said that while it's good to pass laws that impose penalties, if the authorities don't enforce them, the effort will be for naught. "The cruelty will continue," she said.
The bill defines four crimes: first-degree and second-degree animal abuse, and first-degree and second-degree animal neglect.
First-degree abuse, a felony: The bill calls for up to five years in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for anyone who inflicts first-degree abuse on animals. First-degree abuse includes killing, torturing, cutting off ears or tails by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian, poisoning animals, or trapping animals for fighting.
Second-degree abuse, a misdemeanor: People convicted of inflicting second-degree animal abuse would face up to a year in jail and a fine of $500. These offenses include inflicting pain, leading an animal from a vehicle or motor vehicle-driven trailer in a malicious or negligent manner, and transporting animals in a malicious manner.
First-degree neglect, a felony: The bill makes first-degree animal neglect punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of $1,000. Offenses include failing to provide adequate care for animals, abandoning an animal, disposing of a live animal in a Dumpster or garbage disposal site, allowing sick or old animals to suffer, failing to provide aid after hitting an animal with a vehicle, and subjecting an animal to high temperatures while confined in a vehicle.
Second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor: Offenders would face a fine of up to $100 and up to 100 hours of community service. Offenses include failing to provide food and water for more than 12 consecutive hours.
The bill appropriates $100,000 from the General Fund to administer the new law.
Porter said St. John residents who want to attend the hearing should take the 9:15 a.m. ferry from Cruz Bay to the St. Thomas waterfront, which is just a short walk from the Legislature building.
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