Lawmakers fear repeated pushes by HSUS
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- While the House is considering a bill that would toughen Idaho's animal welfare laws by defining animal torture, members of the Senate have vowed to block it.
A bill by Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican rancher and chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, would define torture of a companion animal. The House ag committee passed the bill Feb. 13 and sent it to the full House.
But Sen. Steve Bair, a Republican farmer from Blackfoot and chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, has told Andrus the bill won't be heard in his committee.
The Idaho Legislature passed a bill last year that makes a third conviction for animal cruelty a felony in Idaho.
The legislation, which exempts production agriculture, resulted from threats by animal rights groups such as Humane Society of the United States to push voter initiatives if Idaho doesn't strengthen its animal welfare laws.
Bair and many other lawmakers are concerned HSUS will keep pushing for changes to the state's animal welfare laws until production agriculture loses its exemption.
Bair told the Capital Press HSUS has used a similar process in other states and legislators are drawing a line in the sand.
"Until we draw a line in the sand, they are going to keep chipping away until there is nowhere else to go but production agriculture," he said. "We need to draw a line in the sand long before they get to production animals."
Bair's stance is supported by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest general farm organization.
Based on HSUS' track record in other states, IFBF members don't believe the group can be appeased, said IFBF spokesman John Thompson.
"You can't negotiate with them because they bring nothing to the table except threats of lawsuits and voter initiatives," Thompson said. "They don't have skin in the game and I just don't think they've shown they can be reasonable."
Andrus said conversations with animal rights groups have led him to believe including a definition of torture in the state's animal welfare laws could stave off a ballot initiative and at the least would allow the state to better defend itself to voters in case a ballot initiative does move forward.
He said animal welfare groups are waiting to see what the legislature does with animal cruelty this year before deciding whether to proceed with a ballot initiative.
HSUS has called for a task force to be created this summer that includes animal rights groups as well as state and industry officials to tackle the issue, Andrus said.