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Rules Restores and Approves Animal Cruelty Bill

Aug. 26, 2004 – The animal cruelty bill passed its acid test Thursday, winning unanimous approval from the Senate Rules Committee. It had reached the committee twice before in years and Legislatures past, only to be allowed to die.
It almost suffered a similar fate on Thursday, when a careful reading of amendments passed on Wednesday revealed that language had been changed in a manner that effectively eviscerated the bill. The bill charged first-degree animal abuse and first-degree animal neglect as felonies; the amendments made them misdemeanors – the same as second-degree abuse and neglect.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the bill's sponsor, was incensed Thursday morning. He said he had directed the Senate's legal counsel to tone down the language a bit so the mandated penalties would be more in line with those for comparable abuses against humans.
At Wednesday's hearing before the Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, Public Defender Jesse Bethel had complained that some of the penalties for animal abusers were harsher than those for perpetrators of violence against humans.
Since Donastorg is not a member of the Public Safety Committee, he asked Sen. Emmett Hansen II, a committee member, to offer his amendments.
However, Donastorg had not meant to change the charges for first-degree violations from felonies to misdemeanors. On Thursday morning he consulted with Sen. Roosevelt David, the Rules Committee chair, about correcting the language.
David successfully offered a two-part amendment on Thursday returning the original language, making first-degree animal abuse and first-degree animal neglect felonies. The amendment passed unanimously on a 5-0 vote.
David, who has supported the legislation through its long course, said Thursday that the current language makes the bill more consistent with laws concerning human violence. "It is something we can all live with," he said.
The bill's original language specified imprisonment for abuse or neglect of "up to five years." Wednesday's amendments changed that to "a period not exceeding one year." David's amendment changed it again to "a period not exceeding three years."
David said he was astonished when he saw the change in the bill's language. "We've found that where penalites are concerned they have been very trivialized," he said.
The Rules Committee also heard testimony on four nominations submitted by the governor and several other bills. A full report will be posted Friday on the Source.
Committee members present Thursday were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., David, Carlton Dowe and Louis Hill. Sens. David Jones and Ronald Russell were absent.

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