Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2012 11:00 AM
John O'Connell/Capital Press
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, chairs Idaho's House Agricultural Affairs Committee. He believes an animal cruelty bill that passed the Legislature during the recent session, which includes language from his own bill on animal cruelty, is too weak to stop animal rights groups from bringing a ballot initiative that could be tough on agriculture.
Definition of torture left out, could cause future problems with ag practices
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Rep. Ken Andrus, the chairman of Idaho's House Agricultural Affairs Committee, may seem an unlikely critic of the state's new felony penalty for animal cruelty, given that he wrote much of the bill.
Part of HB650, drafted by the Republican rancher from Lava Hot Springs, imposing felony cock fighting penalties was added to a competing Senate bill that ultimately became law.
The problem, Andrus said, is that his bill's clear definition of companion animal torture was left out of the final version. Though animal rights organizations supported HB650, Andrus believes the new law lacks teeth and won't deter ballot initiatives that could be onerous for agriculture.
The Humane Society of the U.S. and Idaho 1 of 3 -- a grassroots organization named because Idaho was among three states without a felony animal cruelty penalty -- vow to pursue competing ballot initiatives in 2014 if nothing changes.
Both HB650 and the new law exempt standard agricultural practices, such as branding, castration and dehorning. The Andrus bill, however, used the Idaho Humane Society's definition of torture -- "knowing and willful infliction of unjustifiable and extreme prolonged pain with the intent to cause suffering" -- and created a felony for the third offense of torture of a companion animal. The new law also imposes a third-offense felony but requires "malicious intent," which animal rights officials contend is nearly impossible to prove.
"If they come with an initiative, it would be hard for livestock people to not be brought under the umbrella," Andrus said. "I think we had a home run. We had the opportunity of a lifetime to address the issue and we didn't."
Idaho 1 of 3 president Virginia Hemingway added, "I don't think anybody is going to be charged with a third conviction of that particular definition, ever. It's been used to block our initiative, period."
Hemingway's organization has already attempted a petition drive to force a ballot initiative on animal cruelty. The drive, which had a May 1 deadline, came up short, collecting roughly 33,000 of the required 47,000 signatures. A second petition drive would benefit from more time and better organization, Hemingway said.
Lisa Kauffman, HSUS Idaho director, hopes stakeholders will meet with her group over the summer and compromise.
"If we file an initiative, it's going to be first-offense felony on everything," Kauffman said.
Stan Boyd, executive director of Idaho Wool Growers and a lobbyist with Idaho Cattle Association, believes it's time to "take a breath." Boyd said passing the animal cruelty law, which is broadly worded to give judges discretion, was his industry's top legislative priority. Animal rights groups want nothing less than to "do away with animal agriculture as we know it," he said.
"The bottom line is we have a felony bill on the books now," Boyd said. "If these folks want to bring an initiative, bring it on. I don't think the people of Idaho will go for it."