A felony penalty for animal torturers is one signature away from becoming Utah law with House passage of SB297 Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, is the coda to session-long debate and controversy swirling around the issue of updating the state's animal cruelty laws.

Gene Baierschmidt, director of the Utah Humane Society, said he is breathing a sigh of relief and satisfaction that torturing a dog or cat will become a crime punishable as a felony in Utah.

"This is a real piece of legislation that's been a long time coming," Baierschmidt said. "We're ecstatic about it."

SB297 passed the House on a vote of 62-6 and will now head to the desk of Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.