Nearly five months into 2011, many state legislatures have already adjourned for the year. There has been a tremendous amount of progress made on state policies to protect animals from cruelty and abuse, with most of the efforts led by HSLF and The HSUS, even while lawmakers’ attention is consumed with budget crises and other pressing social concerns.
So far, 40 new animal protection laws have been enacted in the states in 2011. Another 17 bills have passed both chambers, and either await a governor’s signature or further action in a conference committee, while 52 bills have passed one chamber, many of which have a chance of getting over the finish line if their state is still in session. Additionally, 56 bills that would have been harmful to animals have been defeated. Here’s a wrap-up on some of the big ticket items for animals in state capitols around the country.
ANIMAL CRUELTY: Mississippi became the 47th state to establish felony-level penalties for malicious acts of cruelty to animals. Only Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota remain misdemeanor cruelty states. Maryland enacted a law allowing courts to prohibit people convicted of cruelty from owning animals during their probation, Florida approved a ban on bestiality, and a bill on the Hawaii governor’s desk will close a loophole in the cruelty statute that exempted “vermin” from humane protections. Colorado, Minnesota and West Virginia upgraded the penalties for killing or injuring public service dogs, and a bill awaiting the governor's signature in New Jersey will do the same. Arkansas, Maryland and Virginia passed laws allowing pets to be included in domestic violence protection orders, and similar bills, if signed by the governors of Oregon and Texas, will bring the total number of states with such protections up to 22.
ANIMAL FIGHTING: Bills awaiting gubernatorial signatures in Hawaii and Texas will close major loopholes in those states’ laws against animal fighting. Hawaii’s bill will upgrade the penalties for dogfighting and make it a felony to attend a dogfight or use “bait dogs”—often lost or stolen pets—to train dogs for fighting. Texas’ bill will ban the possession of cockfighting birds and weapons and attendance at cockfights. If signed into law, Hawaii will be the 49th state to ban attendance at dogfights, and Texas will be the 43rd state to ban attendance at cockfights, the 38th to ban possession of fighting birds, and the 17th to ban fighting implements such as razor-sharp knives and gaffs strapped to rooster’s legs to increase the bloodletting.
ANTIFREEZE POISONING: Georgia, Maryland and West Virginia passed laws requiring the addition of a bittering agent into antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent animals and children from being poisoned by the sweet-tasting liquid. A Texas bill is close to passing the legislature, and if it’s adopted and signed by the governor, 18 states will have laws to prevent antifreeze poisoning.
POACHING: Arizona, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming upgraded their state laws to protect wildlife from being illegally killed by poachers. With budget cuts and fewer state resources and law enforcement officers to patrol vast amounts of wilderness, it’s even more important to have strong penalties to deter “thrill killing” and other illegal hunting.
SHARK FINNING: Washington became the second state (after Hawaii) to ban the sale of shark fins, and similar bills in California and Oregon have each passed one chamber and are making their way through the legislative process. With the Pacific states drying up the demand for shark fin soup and other shark products, it will help stem the tide on the brutal “finning” of sharks at sea—cutting off their fins and throwing them back into the water to die painfully—and the rapid decline of many shark populations worldwide.
PUPPY MILLS: Although Missouri politicians substituted their judgment for the will of the people, and repealed most of the core elements of Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, other state lawmakers have made forward progress on the puppy mill issue. A bill enacted in Maryland and another on the governor’s desk in Texas will crack down on puppy mills in those states. Puppy mill bills passed one chamber in West Virginia and two chambers in Hawaii, but did not receive final action this year. An Oklahoma bill to repeal the state’s puppy mill law was defeated.
AG GAG: Legislation to punish whistleblowers and prevent videotaping and reporting on abuses at industrial factory farms was defeated in Florida and Minnesota. Similar bills to shield agribusiness and roll back free speech are still pending in Iowa and New York.
UNSPORTING HUNTS: A number of states considered bills to expand the captive shooting of tame animals trapped inside fenced enclosures, and some made the argument that canned hunting would provide economic development opportunities. Working with responsible hunters and pointing out that canned hunts could cost taxpayers billions of dollars when captive animals spread diseases to native wildlife populations, we defeated these bills in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. Colorado and Maine considered bills to allow bear hunting during the spring—when mother bears are nursing their dependent cubs—and those bills were defeated, too.
FERAL CATS: The Utah legislature considered perhaps the most absurd bill of 2011, which would have allowed the shooting or bludgeoning of any stray cat believed to be feral. That bill was sent to the litter box, and instead, Utah enacted a positive measure that officially sanctions trap-neuter-return (TNR) as a humane method of managing feral cat populations.