By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A stunning move in the Senate has prolonged the 2013 Idaho Legislature and given new life to several bills, including controversial legislation that would amend the state's animal welfare laws.
The bill, which originated in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee and would define what torture of a companion animal is, was thought dead a few weeks ago when senators said they would not consider it.
However, the bill's author, Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican rancher from east Idaho and chairman of the House ag committee, told fellow committee members March 26 he believes he has found a way to move it forward.
He did not elaborate.
The legislature was set to conclude March 29, giving the bill little time, but the Senate narrowly and unexpectedly defeated the $1.3 billion public schools budget March 27, adding up to 10 more days to the session. That budget was last defeated in either chamber in 1992.
Idaho lawmakers passed a law last year that makes a third conviction for animal cruelty a felony. Andrus' bill would make a second conviction a felony and specifically define what torture is.
Andrus believes adding those provisions could be enough to prevent animal rights groups from proceeding with ballot initiatives that seek to further amend the state's animal abuse laws. He is concerned they would target traditional production agriculture practices, which are exempt from the current laws.
Lisa Kauffman, Idaho state director of the Humane Society of the United States, presented lawmakers with a letter dated March 26 that states her group "will not support a ballot initiative on the issue of animal cruelty" if Andrus' bill is signed into law.
"We would rather work with the legislature and come to some kind of compromise on this," she told members of the House ag committee. "This is a great compromise."
Several lawmakers, however, pointed out that "Idaho 1 of 3," a group that narrowly failed to get an animal cruelty initiative on the 2012 ballot, has made no such promise.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, reminded lawmakers they have a letter from Idaho 1 of 3 that states the group "cannot promise we will not do another initiative" if Andrus' bill becomes law. That group wants a first-offense felony provision and it also wants animal abuse laws to apply to production animals, Batt said.
"I don't believe the good efforts of the chairman are going to deter this group," she said.
But Andrus argued that even if there is a ballot initiative, the state would be in a good position to defend itself to voters if the provisions in his bill are law.
"I think the bill we have before us will ward off such an effort. I think we have a great opportunity of stopping it," he said before the committee voted 8-6 in favor of it.