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Crusader against animal cruelty says bill is too weak

BISMARCK -- Kristie Skunberg said Wednesday the amended version of the Legislature's animal cruelty bill is too weak and fails to address creating penalties that fit the crimes against animals.

The chairwoman of North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty said in a news release that the amended version of Senate Bill 2211 is far worse than its original proposal.

The bill cleared the House on Wednesday and will have to obtain approval by the Senate before it is sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for his signature.

"History is repeating itself in North Dakota, the House blocked Senate-approved animal cruelty legislation in 2011, and now they are at it again by gutting Senate Bill 2211," she said. "What's worse is this is a far cry from what was promised to the voters last fall as an alternative to Measure 5, this is exactly why the ballot process was needed, and the voters were duped by false promises."

Skunberg is referring to the citizen-initiated Measure 5 that failed in 2012, which would have made it a Class C felony for an individual to intentionally harm a dog, cat or horse.

Advocates pushing for the original SB 2211 adamantly said they voted down the measure because it did not cover every animal with the right forms of penalties.

The original bill was crafted by North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care, which consisted of local humane societies, agriculture organizations, veterinarians and a zoo that worked on the legislation over the past two years.

Skunberg is encouraging the Senate to reject the House amendments to the bill that passed Wednesday by a 90-1 vote. The amendments made the penalties less severe for people convicted of harming animals than the original bill would have.

Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said the committee had to balance the welfare of the animal with the possible unintended consequences of the proposal.

"There needs to be a balance so one is not compromised in the protection of another," he said.

As amended, the bill lays out specific definitions for abuse, cruelty, neglect and abandonment.

Each carries a differing penalty based on the severity of the crime.

Abandonment and neglect carry a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum one-year jail sentence, $2,000 fine or both.

Abandonment is defined as giving up control of an animal without intention of reclaiming it and without placing it in another person's custody.

Neglect is willfully engaging in neglect in regard to food, water, shelter and environmental conditions for dogs and cats. All other animals are exempt from the environmental condition provision.

Abuse is defined as any act that results in physical injury or death of an animal. It would be a Class A misdemeanor for the first and second offense -- punishable by a maximum one-year jail sentence, $2,000 fine or both -- and a Class C felony for three or more offenses in 10 years, carrying a maximum five-year jail sentence, $5,000 fine or both.

Cruelty would be a Class C felony if any person intentionally breaks any bones, causes extreme pain, prolongs impairment of health or physically tortures an animal.

The original bill defined the four offenses as animal abuse, cruelty, abandonment and lack of adequate care. All were Class A misdemeanors for the first offense -- punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine -- and Class C felonies for a second or subsequent offense within five years -- punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.