Furry animals living in Utah may soon breathe a little easier. On Tuesday the House passed a tougher bill targeting cruelty to animals - but only after softening it considerably in the wake of protests from Utah's rural lawmakers. Lawmakers spent much of the morning and afternoon debating the merits of HB189, which makes it a class B misdemeanor to be cruel to a domesticated animal, even if you didn't know you were being cruel at the time.The bill passed 62-8 after numerous amendments deleted language that farmers believed would destroy Utah's livestock industry.
Lawmakers added language exempting livestock and wildlife from the bill, and they eliminated other language that some say could have been used to prohibit the sport of "horse pulling" and even rodeos.
Lawmakers further softened the bill by eliminating the requirement that owners would be required to provide their animals "fresh potable water, shelter, air, space, light, protection from injury, exposure, weather extremes and annoyance." Instead, the bill now says owners must provide only "appropriate and essential food and other needs."
House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, the sponsor of the bill, agreed with most amendments, saying it was not the intent of the bill to harm Utah's agricultural industry. Rather it was to protect pets.
"This bill's so fine-tuned now it would run at 10,000 rpms in first gear," Pignanelli said after the amendments.
Under current Utah law, an owner of a domestic animal must know he is being cruel to the animal before charges can be filed. Pignanelli's bill would remove the "I didn't know" defense.
"It gives law enforcement a stick to prevent torture and cruelty to animals," Pignanelli said. And quoting Abraham Lincoln, he added, "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of the whole human being."
Animal rights advocates had logged literally thousands of calls to lawmakers in support of the bill, which now goes to the Senate.