Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:30 AM
Sean Ellis/Capital Press
Sheep graze in this file photo. Idaho legislators are discussing whether a tougher anti-animal cruelty law is required in light of a plan by the Humane Society of the United States to sponsor a ballot initiative in 2014.
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho lawmakers expect to have to deal with more proposals addressing animal cruelty this year, an issue that resulted in a lot of debate and heated rhetoric last year.
"I have a feeling we will be seeing some more animal cruelty legislation," said Rep. Gayle Batt, a former farmer and member of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee. "That's one I definitely see coming back."
Idaho became one of the last states in the nation to adopt a felony provision for animal cruelty during the 2012 Idaho Legislature, but a provision that defined torture was left out near the end of the session.
The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to push a ballot initiative in 2014 if the state doesn't adequately address the animal cruelty issue and including a definition of what constitutes animal torture in Idaho law is one of the group's priorities.
HSUS officials have said any ballot initiative they back in Idaho will be much stricter than the animal welfare provision passed last year.
The law passed last year requires "malicious intent" to be convicted of animal cruelty, while HSUS wants to the state to define torture as the "knowing and willful infliction of unjustifiable and extreme prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering."
The provision defining torture that failed to pass in 2012 was included in a bill by Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican rancher from Lava Hot Springs and chairman of the House ag committee. Andrus said HSUS officials have agreed not to go forward with a ballot initiative if the state addresses the issue sufficiently.
Andrus also believes the torture issue will be brought up again this legislative session, especially in light of a recent incident in which a man was accused of breaking into Zoo Boise and killing a Patas monkey.
"I think that will be addressed this session, especially with the incident with the monkey in Zoo Boise," he said.
Last year's law was pushed by livestock groups in the state, and Idaho Cattle Association Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott said the industry feels it did the right thing and is satisfied with the law, which also addressed cockfighting.
"It's our job to wake up every day and make sure (our) animals are fed and watered and properly cared for and we felt very good about coming with legislation that ensured that happens," he said. "We feel there is not any mistreatment of animals that cannot be prosecuted under the current law."
Prescott said cattle ranchers would have to wait to see the content of any other proposed animal welfare bill before commenting on it, but the industry is skeptical of any promises made by HSUS.
"Quite frankly, we don't feel like we can believe a thing that they say," he said. "Nothing that we do as a state is going to satisfy the Humane Society of the United States ... except for abandoning animal livestock production practices all together."