Animal cruelty proposal passes House

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Legislation that would make the abuse of cats and dogs a felony has now passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
The House proposal, which passed by a 119-3 margin Monday, now goes back to the Senate where members can accept the House version and send it to Gov. Haley Barbour, or they can try to work out the differences in a conference between the two chambers.
The measure has passed the Senate in recent years, but has died in the House Agriculture Committee.
This year, House Agriculture Chairman Greg Ward, D-Ripley, was able to craft a compromise between animal rights advocates and the Farm Bureau, which in past years had reservations about the proposal.
On the House floor, Ward said he was glad the two groups had gotten together, “but that is not the reason I brought this bill to the floor … Read this bill. Every line puts people first.”
He said he brought the bill to the floor because it is an issue that needs to be resolved to protect pets and people.
The bill, Ward said, would make it a felony on the second offense of torturing, mutilating, maiming or burning a cat or dog.
“How many would like to live by someone who does that?” Ward asked.
He said mental health officials told him that people who torture a dog or cat often engage in violent behavior against people.
The goal, Ward said, is for the person caught torturing a dog or cat to be charged with a misdemeanor on the first offense and receive a psychiatric evaluation.
A person found guilty for the second offense would be guilty of a felony. The punishment would be a fine of up to $5,000 or up to five years in prison, or both.
The first offense would be considered a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail.
Leaders of the powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau had worried that the proposal could be used to prosecute rural residents who, for instance, under unusual circumstances might be forced to take action against animals harming their livestock.
But the Farm Bureau supported the compromise. Ward said the bill would not take away the rights of people to defend their property.
Still, numerous questions were raised on the House floor, most involving hypothetical situations and asking what relief property owners would have in each instance. In the end, the compromise passed by an overwhelming margin.
Mississippi already has a felony law regarding cruelty of livestock.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.