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Other Views: ND animal abuse bill is abused

In a session already distinguished for thumbing its collective nose at voters, the North Dakota Legislature's dismantling of a good animal abuse/cruelty bill is especially egregious. The bill that easily cleared the Senate called for upping penalties for specific categories of animal abuse; it has been gutted by the House.

The original bill was the product of a coordinated effort by legislators, farm and ranch interests, veterinarians and others. The bill was prepared for the Legislature after voters last year turned down an animal abuse ballot measure, in large part because of the promise and expectation that lawmakers would pass a strong law. Instead of doing so, House lawmakers, abetted by the North Dakota Farm Bureau, conducted a cynical bait-and-switch maneuver.

The impetus for changing animal abuse penalties from misdemeanor to felony was the increasing incidence of cruelty to domestic pets and farm animals. Case after case makes headlines, but perpetrators routinely get a slap on the hand and then go back to whatever they were doing, including mistreatment of livestock or household pets. The current law is not a deterrent.

For its part, the Farm Bureau sprung its reversal well into the legislative session, specifically after the strengthened Senate bill passed 45-0. In what appeared to be stealth strategy from the beginning, the bill's opponents said one of the reasons they backed away from the bill (which they helped write) was that a representative of the Humane Society of the United States attended the House committee hearing. How lame an excuse is that?

The HSUS had nothing to do with the legislation and had no influence in the Senate. Such nonsense would be akin to opposing an education bill because a North Dakota Education Association lobbyist was in the room, or opposing a school milk funding bill because a dairy farmer was sitting in.

Senate Bill 2211, the felony animal cruelty bill, is good legislation. It was carefully written by North Dakotans for North Dakotans. It includes already-in-law exceptions for traditional agriculture, rodeo, hunting, etc. But the House thus far has betrayed the implied promise lawmakers and others made when voters said no to the ballot measure. If the Legislature, specifically the House, continues to behave dishonorably, an animal abuse ballot measure next year is a guarantee.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's ditorial Board formed this opinion.