November 2016 | Stiffer Charges for Equine Cruelty a Whisker Away
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Stiffer Charges for Equine Cruelty a Whisker Away

Stephanie Shertzer Lawson - November 2016

Pennsylvania was poised to catch up with the rest of the United States in terms of punishment for animal cruelty as Pennsylvania Equestrian went to press on October 24.

House Bill 869 was passed unanimously by both the state House and the Senate and was sent to the Rules Committee for concurrence.  Governor Wolf had indicated he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk by the end of the 2015/2016 session, October 26, according to Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania State Director for the Humane Society of the US. 

HB869 merged four animal cruelty bills—HB 869, Cordelia’s Law, Libre’s Law, and an anti-tethering amendment--into one comprehensive animal cruelty bill.

SB294 or Cordelia’s Law, named for a mare tethered without shelter in a Bedford County PA auto salvage yard who died from neglect a few days after her rescue, was introduced in February, 2015. It unanimously passed the Senate in June, 2015 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it languished for more than a year.

Cordelia’s Law put penalties for crimes against equines on a par with crimes against cats and dogs.  Currently, crimes against horses, including repeat offences, are summary offences, on a par with traffic violations. Humane officers would have the option of misdemeanor charges as well as summary charges, if warranted. Violators could be sentenced to pay a fine of as much as $1,000 and to imprisonment for up to two years, and be ordered to undergo a presentence mental evaluation. A conviction on a charge of aggravated cruelty resulting in serious bodily injury or death, or a repeat misdemeanor offence, could be treated as a third degree felony.

The bill also adds a definition of torture, previously absent from the criminal code. It defines torture as breaking, severing or severely impairing limbs, inflicting severe and prolonged pain, or causing the loss of more than one-third of the animal’s normal body mass without veterinary care.

Libre’s Law, SB1372, named for a Boston terrier puppy found near death in a Lancaster County, PA puppy mill, increased penalties for crimes against animals and required convicted animal abusers to forfeit custody of pets. The bill creates a new offence of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals for especially heinous crimes, establishes stiffer penalties for egregious offences, and allows more prosecutorial discretion.  The anti-tethering amendment limits the tethering of dogs outdoors to a maximum of nine hours in a 24-hour period, requires access to water and shelter, and specifies time limits for tethering in extreme heat, cold or severe weather, with exceptions for training and complying with the regulations of a camping or recreational area.  It also defines adequate shelter and makes repeat offences a third degree misdemeanor.

HB869 provides an exception for activities undertaken in normal agricultural activity. It also gives humane officers latitude to lodge less severe summary charges where appropriate.

“Only Iowa, Pennsylvania and Mississippi lack this kind of law protecting animals,” Tullo said. 

She said the General Assembly plans to initiate an animal cruelty task force in the next session that will look at where PA stands in current law and prioritize legislation to combat animal cruelty in the future.

UPDATE (November 1)
“On October 26, a group of rural legislators, and the pro-pigeon shoot lobby including the NRA, raised strong opposition to HB896 because they were concerned about the torture language affecting live pigeon shoots. The introduction of the amendment delayed a vote on the bill. It was amended to address those issues so that the bill would not be killed by this lobby,” Kristen Trullo said.

“After being amended, the bill had to wait 24 hours for a vote. Although a 2/3 majority could have suspended the rules, an additional session day had been added and not all of the supporters of the bill were there, so the bill did not receive a vote.”

Representative Mike Sturla of Lancaster, a member of the House Rules Committee who supports the bill, said the bill’s chances of passing on the final day the House will be in session, November 14, were very slim. “The Senate comes back November 16 and the bill would have to pass the House and be sent to the Senate that day so they can vote on it. It will take a lot of pressure to make that happen.”

“We are asking that advocates politely contact and/or meet with their State Representative (encouraging groups of 4-6 to coordinate meetings in district offices) before Nov. 14th to ask them if they can help persuade House Leadership to run the bill on November 14th. We have very strong support for this bill – 100% of Democrats and approximately 50% of Republicans support it,” Tullo said.

A rally is planned in Harrisburg for November 14. More information will be at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1662998610691890/