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June 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017

Libre’s paw on Libre’s Law, Time for Congress to make a PACT

This week Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, surrounded by a swarm of animal advocates and lawmakers, eagerly signed a comprehensive overhaul of the Keystone State’s anti-cruelty statutes into law. The governor wasn’t the only one to sign the bill, however: Libre, a Boston terrier who recovered from a shocking case of mistreatment that rallied the legislature to take action, dipped his paw print in paint and stamped it on the bill, too.

Libres_Law
Photo courtesy of Governor Wolf
Libre signing his bill into law with the
governor and his mom!

A Good Samaritan got a glimpse of a severely neglected Libre and had the resolve to convince the owner to turn over the failing dog to her. From that point forward, two epic journeys followed: 1) Libre’s slow but steady convalescence, and 2) the inexorable advance of an anti-cruelty bill that had new vigor because of the dog’s painful circumstance. Libre’s plight touched the hearts of many Pennsylvanians who then called on the General Assembly to strengthen animal cruelty and neglect laws, so cases like Libre’s don’t go unpunished. 

At that time, the state’s laws did not carry penalties with suitable punishments for abuse, cruelty, and neglect committed against animals. Especially concerning to advocates of this bill was the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Numerous studies have shown a substantial correlation between animal abuse and family violence. Animal abuse may present a risk of child abuse and be predictive of future violence or threats against other human victims.   

Pennsylvania had previously been one of only three states in the nation (with Iowa and Mississippi) that did not punish extreme and malicious acts of animal cruelty as a felony on the first offense—only for repeat offenders. The new legislation, known as Libre’s Law, closes that loophole, and also updates and clarifies the existing animal abuse statute. Penalties will be more clearly delineated among summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felony charges based on the seriousness of the abuse involved. Also, this bill provides escalated penalties for repeat offenders. This is a major victory and the most comprehensive animal protection package in state history, and should move Pennsylvania up from its current #18 spot in our annual Humane State Ranking.

While the states have continuously fortified their anti-cruelty laws over the years—with all 50 now having some felony-level penalties for cruelty, compared to only four in the mid-1980s—there is still no general federal anti-cruelty statute. We are working to change that, with the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act—S. 654 by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and H.R. 1494 by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla.—which now has 16 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and more than 200 in the House.

There is already a federal ban on the trade in obscene video depictions of live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty in perverse “snuff” films. But while the trade in videos depicting images of cruelty is illegal under federal law, the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself is not.

The PACT Act would close this gap in the law, and also provide prosecutors with a valuable additional tool when animal cruelty is occurring in a federal facility or in interstate commerce. For example, federal prosecutors would be empowered to take legal action in regard to malicious cruelty to animals on federal property or in a federal building, or if they found it in the course of investigating another interstate crime (say, in pursuing a drug smuggling or human trafficking ring). 

As we’ve seen with animal fighting, the state and federal laws are complementary and provide the widest set of tools to crack down on that barbaric bloodsport and its associated criminal activities. Some animal fighting raids are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and sometimes the perpetrators are charged under state law, or federal law, or both.

With animal cruelty, too, most cases can be handled under the existing state statutes. The federal law wouldn’t interfere with those of the states but would provide an additional overlay when necessary. The bill has been endorsed by more than 200 sheriffs and police departments in 36 states and national groups including the National Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

It’s long past time that Congress empowers the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to deal with malicious and deviant cruelty on federal property or that crosses state lines. We know there is a well-documented link between animal abuse and other forms of violent behavior, and this legislation is a tool to combat this violence when we get a first look at it. We shouldn’t need some awful, personalized case of cruelty, and the naming of the bill after a battered animal, to stir us to do the right thing. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to pass the PACT Act.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The States’ Rights Elimination Act

With House and Senate Agriculture committee members beginning the elaborate process of assembling the next Farm Bill, we expect another protracted fight in Congress over states’ rights and animal welfare. However, a new bill introduced this week—H.R. 2887 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.—is a radical federal overreach that overshadows anything we might have anticipated with a new Farm Bill debate. It could strip states of their right to protect their own citizens, and it represents the most serious threat imaginable to animal welfare protections. 

Cow-blog
Leandro Hernandez/i.Stock.com

If enacted, this measure would put dozens of state animal protection laws at risk, including measures dealing with the extreme confinement of farm animals, horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat, the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, tail docking of dairy cows and processing downer livestock, commerce in shark fins and rhino horn, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.

Innocuously titled by its authors the "No Regulation Without Representation Act," the bill should more accurately be called the "States’ Rights Elimination Act." Like the King amendment in previous years, it could potentially nullify state laws relating to animal cruelty, child labor, cigarette safety, and even the labeling of farm-raised fish. It’s an attempt to strip states of their right to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens, prohibiting them from regulating the sale of any product produced in another state—no matter how dangerous, unethical, or environmentally destructive. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the bipartisan organization representing Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the states, calls this "one of the most coercive, intrusive, and preemptive legislature measures ever introduced in Congress." NCSL notes that:

The Framers of the Constitution would be alarmed, as they intended the role of the federal government to be limited, not a government that could regulate anything it wanted. The No Regulation Without Representation Act embodies the usurpation of state sovereignty and expansion of federal overreach the Framers feared. The legislation violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the sovereign rights of states cannot be abridged by Congress and aims to eliminate states’ powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding.

Why should states be forced to allow commerce in products they have banned, for reasons of animal cruelty, food safety, and other compelling purposes? State lawmakers, governors, and regulators took action on these matters through established political processes granted to the states, and why should a small number of lawmakers in Washington trump the views of duly elected state officials?

There are so many policy issues traditionally handled by the states, in the realm of agriculture alone. What about state laws regulating the sale of raw milk, the labeling of catfish, fire-safety standards for cigarettes, the sale of dangerous pesticides, the importation of invasive pests (such as with firewood), or state quality standards for butter?  

But the new legislation is much more sweeping than just agricultural products, and covers all activities involving interstate commerce. There’s no telling how broadly this could be applied to state and local laws across a wide range of businesses. Could it prevent states from regulating strip clubs, or require dry counties to open liquor stores? Could it force states to allow abortion services if the doctors come in from another state? Would state laws on marriage licenses, pornography, drugs, guns, prostitution, and bestiality be up for grabs?

It’s ironic that some politicians often say they are for states’ rights when they agree with what the states are doing, but when they don’t like the result, they are perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do. The proponents of this legislation are trying to hang on to outdated factory farming practices, but the world has changed. The idea of extreme confinement is on its way out, with more than 200 food retail companies pledging to cleanse their supply chains of products that come from these sorts of inhumane confinement systems.

A broad and diverse coalition helped to stave off this destructive provision last time the Farm Bill was considered, and we must rally together again. Republicans and Democrats from every region of the country and every part of the political spectrum all have an interest in defeating this sweeping and unconstitutional attack on states’ rights. Not only is the protection of millions of animals in jeopardy, but this radical attack also threatens years of lawmaking by citizens and elected officials, and the very principles on which our country was founded.

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