PHOENIX — A House panel agreed Tuesday 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 that 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 outlaws animal “hoarding,” keeping so many as to leave them in danger.
But the legislation strips state and local police of any power to investigate abuse of farm animals and chickens, requiring complaints instead be made to the Department of Agriculture. Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer said that made no sense.
“We don’t have a livestock officer for even each county,” she told members of the Committee on Agriculture and Water. “Essentially it feels like livestock is telling local law enforcement what crimes they can investigate and what crimes they can’t.’’
Mayer also said many of the complaints she sees don’t involve ranchers, but individuals who own horses, sheep, goats and even poultry. She said there is no reason to take local law officers out of the loop.
A separate concern was raised about a provision that would require anyone with photographs, videos or other evidence of animal abuse to turn that over to authorities within five days or risk a fine and possible jail time.
Karen Michael, on the board of the Animal Defense League, said that would interfere with undercover investigations. She said videos produced and made public eventually resulted in Arizona voters outlawing cockfighting in 1998 and a 2006 measure that makes it illegal to house calves raised for veal or pregnant pigs in pens where they cannot lie down and fully extend their limbs or turn around.
But Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, the prime sponsor of the bill, said the provision wouldn’t outlaw undercover investigations.
“The intention is to ensure the allegations are investigated in a timely manner and to prevent further abuse and further animal suffering,” she said.
McGee, who helped write the legislation, acknowledged providing special treatment for the farming and ranching community is a necessary political compromise.
She said there were efforts last year to update animal abuse laws and establish appropriate penalties for neglect and abuse, “But the legislation failed last yearfailed “because we could not adapt it to the legal, humane, commercial activities of Arizona ranchers, farmers, fairs, 4-H students.”
Without a sign-off by the agriculture community, the changes were doomed, which meant a continuation of laws that allow someone who provides a flagpole as “shelter,” or someone who places a water dish out of reach of an animal to escape cruelty laws.