Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:00 PM
Proposed Idaho law a would satisfy HSUS, lawmaker says
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The issue of animal welfare, which divided the Idaho Legislature last year, has returned in the form of a bill that would define animal torture.
The bill, which would make a third conviction for torturing a companion animal or pet a felony, was sent to print by the House Agricultural Affairs Committee Feb. 6 after a detailed defense of the legislation by Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican rancher from Lava Hot Springs and the committee chairman.
"I come to you today with some trepidation. I know this is a controversial issue and some of you don't want to deal with it or address it," he said.
But, he added, the torture provision is needed to stave off a proposed ballot initiative by the Humane Society of the United States, which would seek much stiffer animal welfare laws and penalties.
Andrus' bill would define animal torture as the "knowing and willful infliction of unjustifiable and extreme prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering."
Normal production agriculture practices would be exempt and not impacted "in any way, shape or form," Andrus said.
The Senate and House passed a compromise bill backed by the livestock industry last year that makes a third conviction for animal cruelty a felony in Idaho. But Andrus said HSUS, which ranks the state last when it comes to animal welfare, is not satisfied with the law.
The new law requires malicious intent to be proven and HSUS believes it lacks the teeth to prosecute people for animal cruelty. HSUS sent lawmakers a letter last year promising not to move forward in Idaho if the state passes a law that defines animal torture.
But if the state doesn't, HSUS officials said, they would go ahead with a ballot initiative. The group seeks to add a felony provision for animal "neglect." If such a provision becomes law in Idaho, "it will affect agriculture big-time, no question," Andrus said.
"I think this is a reasonable approach to animal welfare that would enable us to put ourselves in a position where we could defend ourselves in the event of a referendum," he said.
A bill by Andrus that defined animal torture was stopped in the Senate last year and he said there is still strong opposition to his proposal in that body.
But there is also opposition in his own committee. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, a former farmer, voted to print the bill and give it a public hearing, but she let Andrus know she would oppose it.
She said the bill passed last year "was very proactive legislation brought by the livestock industry and these laws have been doing the work they were meant to do.
"HSUS is disingenuous at best and their threats of referendums and lawsuits are not appreciated at all," she said. "They're asking for 'torture' now and they're going to ask for 'neglect' next. It's never going to be enough for them."