PHOENIX — A House panel agreed today to stiffen penalties for those who abuse pets — but only after carving out what essentially amounts to special treatment — and looser regulations — for farmers and ranchers.

On one hand, HB 2587 tightens some language which Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said has allowed abusers to escape punishment. For example, she said it requires animals to have access to water "suitable for drinking'' rather than just water that may be moldy and shelter "appropriate for the animal or weather condition.''

And it clearly outlaws animal "hoarding,'' having so many as to leave them in danger.

But the legislation strips state and local police of any power to investigate complaints of abuse of animals and chickens, requiring complaints instead be made to the Department of Agriculture. That brought complaints by police and prosecutors who said they are not only capable of investigating such cases but more available, what with only 10 agricultural inspectors for the whole state.

And it also says that the laws that protect dogs as pets would not apply to those working on ranches.

"The exemption would allow me to beat my dog with impunity,'' said Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer, one of the foes of the bill.

There also were concerns about a new law which would require anyone who has video of animals being abused to turn that over to the authorities within five days or face a fine or possible jail time.

But Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, said that is justified. She said anyone who witnesses abuse should report it as soon as possible to try to have it stopped.

McGee, in a push for the bill, told colleagues that this essentially comes down to a matter of compromise. She said efforts to stiffen animal cruelty laws last year failed when the ranching community objected to being subject to the same abuse standards that would apply to household pets.