CONTROVERSIAL ANIMAL CRUELTY SENATE BILL APPEARS TO BE STALLED
A controversial Alabama bill receiving fervent backlash from animal rights activist groups appears to be stalled in the Senate.
Senate Bill 196 (SB 196), otherwise known as the Working Animal Protection and Animal Enterprise Freedom Act, was introduced mid-February and was immediately met with opposition from a variety of animal rights groups who were concerned with several aspects of the legislation. The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Jack Williams, R-Mobile.
- Gives exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of working animals and animal enterprises to the Department of Agriculture and Industries
- The appearance of an animal in otherwise good health would not be probable cause for animal cruelty
- If alleged abuse is found, the enterprise or owner may be given up to 10 business days to correct the abuse
- Only animals in danger of imminent death or severe injuries may be seized
- Law enforcement may not provide photos or evidence of violations to the public until after a conviction
- Enacts criminal penalties for making frivolous complaints regarding animal cruelty
Defiance of SB 196 reached a furor on Facebook and other forms of social media over the weekend, with state and national animal advocacy groups imploring Alabamians to contact their state representatives and express their worries surrounding the proposed bill.
“Animal advocates, animal control professionals, animal shelters, people all over the state woke up and looked at this bill and saw many things wrong with it, not the least of which that it would have undermined our current foundation of cruelty enforcement,” said Mindy Gilbert, the Alabama senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Many people reached out to their legislatures and at present, it appears as though this bill is not moving.”
Concerned organizations and animal lovers are critical of several aspects of the bill.
“If I were to take a group of people, put them in a room, and give them an assignment that they had a 12-page limit to write the most comprehensive bill they could that would harm animals and the cruelty laws that we have currently, this would be it,” Gilbert said.
The proposed bill features language that would transfer jurisdiction over existing animal protection laws from local authorities to the Alabama Department of Agriculture. This potential move was widely criticized because critics believe the agriculture department doesn’t have the resources or time to oversee every animal cruelty complaint made around the state on a day to day basis.
“It seems a little bit impractical to have cruelty under the state department of agriculture,” said Thomas Sahm, programs and office manager at the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter. “I feel like it would be daunting for them to go through the amount of cruelty cases in each jurisdiction that’s reported on a daily basis.”
In an interview with WSFA12 News, Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate seemed to agree with that sentiment. Pate said his department was not consulted about the bill during its formation.
Along with transferring jurisdiction of animal cruelty cases, the bill also seeks to increase penalties for people who falsely report cases of animal abuse.
According to the bill’s synopsis, it would provide criminal penalties for submitting a frivolous complaint alleging an animal enterprise has engaged in animal cruelty.
By increasing punishments for false reporting, the bill could cut down on the amount of animal abuse and cruelty cases reported, which means fewer animals in need getting the help they deserve, bill opponents said.
“This is probably going to discourage people from reporting animal cruelty in the future if it’s passed,” Sahm said. “We do get a lot of people calling in with complaints and we do refer them to animal control agencies for that so they can investigate possible animal cruelty.”
Not all animal groups are opposing SB 196. The American Kennel Club, a national organization that serves as a purebred pedigree registry and the governing body of dog shows, publicly displayed its support of the bill with a post on its website. The post even asked citizens to voice their support for the bill by contacting their Alabama senators.
AKC Regional Manager Patty Van Sicklen confirmed the organization’s support of SB196 but said they would like to see it improved with several amendments.
“If Alabama Senate Bill 196 continues to advance, we will recommend certain amendments that we believe will help ensure that good-faith complaints of animal cruelty against an animal enterprise can be submitted expeditiously,” Sicklen said in a typed response to questions.
However, those amendments will probably not be added, since the bill appears to be stalled in the legislative process. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told WSFA12 News in the same story that the bill “… for right now, is not moving anywhere.”
That’s a win for animal rights activists in Alabama, but Gilbert said she doesn’t expect SB196 to be the last effort made to the way cases of animal cruelty are handled in the state.
Read the bill in its entirety below.