Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, made no bones about how he views his position on animal cruelty in opening comments on the Senate floor Wednesday.
"At this time, in this Legislature, I'm the best friend that animals have," Christensen said.
Fourteen of his fellow senators agreed with him, and his bill passed by the slimmest majority.
Christensen defended his bill, SB117, which has come under fire from animal-rights groups as not going far enough to punish animal abusers.
Christensen said his bill clarifies the animal cruelty statute, puts Utah in one of the "strongest positions" compared to penalties in other states and is a good compromise between the opposing sides. SB117 does allow for a felony penalty for animal torture, but only on a second offense that occurs within five years of a first offense.
A competing bill, SB102, sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, did not receive a committee hearing, and would have made a felony penalty possible on a first offense of animal torture.
Christensen's bill creates three levels of infraction neglect, cruelty and torture, with penalties for each level and enhancements that can increase those penalties.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, expressed reservations about language in Christensen's bill that seemed to reduce penalties for animal neglect, and attempted to amend the bill to remove the "five years" limitation on second offenses punishable by a felony.
"If you behave yourself for five years, you get to start over?" McCoy said. "We're talking about animal torture here ... I don't feel comfortable giving an animal torturer a five year statute of limitations."
McCoy's proposed amendment did not pass.
During floor debate, Davis proposed a substitute bill that sought a middle-ground between his version and Christensen's, but wasn't able to muster enough support to pass the motion.
With all 29 Senators present Wednesday, SB117 was dead even at 14 yeas and 14 nays with the last, and deciding vote residing with Senate President Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.
Valentine prefaced his vote with the statement that he abhors animal torture and noted that an exclusion for livestock, originally part of SB117, was stricken from the bill on his insistence in its committee hearing.
"If you insist on something happening in a bill, you'd better be prepared to vote for it," Valentine said.And so he did. SB117 was passed by the Senate and will now move to the House.