By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- An Idaho animal rights coalition that tried unsuccessfully last year to qualify an animal welfare initiative for the ballot has not yet committed to another campaign.
Facing a funding challenge and a defection within its ranks, "Idaho 1 of 3" is in a holding pattern at the moment, President Virginia Hemingway said.
One of the three groups that forms Idaho 1 of 3 has decided not to join another ballot initiative effort, she said, while the other two are waiting on funding.
"If that comes through, we'll go ahead with it. If not, we won't," she said.
The ballot initiative proposed by Idaho 1 of 3 would be more strict than the state's current felony provision for animal abuse, which was added to code last year.
Current statute makes a third conviction for animal abuse a felony. To be convicted of animal cruelty in Idaho now, a prosecutor has to prove there was malicious intent, which Idaho 1 of 3 believes is extremely difficult.
Its proposed initiative would define animal torture and make a first conviction a felony.
It would require anyone convicted of animal cruelty to serve a minimum of one year in jail. Current code requires no definite jail time.
The proposal would also allow a judge to require a mental health evaluation for someone convicted of animal cruelty.
While the proposal would exempt normal production agriculture practices, it would cover all animals when it comes to abuse and torture.
"There will be no animals excluded in this," Hemingway said. "Production animals need the same protection as other animals."
A bill introduced during the recent legislative session that sought to head off an animal welfare ballot initiative would have applied to companion animals only and exempted all production animals.
That bill, which defined animal torture and made a second offense of animal torture a felony, passed the House but died in the Senate when the chairman of that chamber's agricultural affairs committee, Sen. Steve Bair, a Republican farmer from Blackfoot, refused to let it be introduced.
The author of the bill, Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican cattle rancher from Lava Hot Springs, believes the legislation would have closed the door on any more ballot initiative attempts.
"I don't think (Idaho 1 of 3) would have moved forward with a ballot initiative if we would have passed that," he said. "They're hesitating now."
Andrus, chairman of the House ag committee, said he will bring his bill back next year and is hopeful he can find a way to get it introduced in the Senate.
Bair's stance is supported by the Idaho Cattle Association, which is worried that some animal rights groups' ultimate goal is to chip away at the law until they eliminate animal production agriculture.
"We feel there aren't any acts of cruelty to animals that can't be prosecuted under the laws we have now," said ICA Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott. "There is really no justification to do anything else.