A de facto victor emerged Friday between two bills competing to change current Utah laws on animal cruelty offenses.
Extensive testimony on SB117, sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, used up almost the entirety of time allotted for the committee hearing before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill on a party-line vote. Meanwhile, SB102, sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, was not heard Friday, and there's a chance it may not be heard, period.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, said he is under the impression that Davis' bill will not get a hearing, and isn't happy about it. Eliminating the committee hearing on the bill also eliminates the part of the process that allows the public to testify on behalf of, or in opposition to, proposed legislation.
"This is a bad way to run a legislature," McCoy said in reference to how SB102 is being handled. Without a committee hearing, the bill will have an extremely difficult time ever getting debated before the full Senate.
Before testimony on the animal cruelty bills began, committee chair Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said that he and other members of the committee had received a high volume of emails on the bills, noted the highly contentious nature of the issues addressed by both proposals, and encouraged those in attendance to keep testimony concise.
In opening comments, Christensen said that "he was trying to temper this very emotional issue with some common sense" but also said that if he'd "read only the twisted facts and outright lies that the Human Society had put out" that he'd be emailing, too.
Christensen's bill creates a felony penalty for a second animal cruelty conviction, but only if it occurs within five years of the first offense. It also alters the current code by defining three tiers of animal abuse which include neglect, cruelty and torture. Certain exclusions for livestock are also outlined in the bill.
Todd Bingham of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation testified on behalf of Christensen's bill, calling it the right combination of penalties for animal abusers and protections for the agriculture industry.
"No segment of society has more concern for the well-being of animals than the livestock industry," Bingham said. "Agriculture producers understand the needs of their animals."
Opposition testimony on SB117 came from animal rights groups, pet owners and former agriculture industry employees.
Utah Humane Society director Gene Baierschmidt called SB117 "an appalling piece of legislation."
"We really feel that having (a felony penalty) on the second offense is really meaningless ... it's a mockery of what we're trying to accomplish here," Baierschmidt said.
Baierschmidt's group is supporting SB102, a bill that does not change the current code on animal cruelty, but does change the penalties that can be assessed, making a first offense animal cruelty conviction punishable as a felony.The opportunity to voice support for that bill, however, may not be forthcoming.
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