Idaho senator prepares two animal welfare bills

Aug 28, 2009

Idaho senator prepares two animal welfare bills

Two pieces of legislation currently being developed by Republican state senator Tim Corder are aimed at addressing animal cruelty laws in Idaho. Working alongside agricultural and animal rights groups, the Senator hopes to create a specific definition as to what constitutes "cruelty" , and allow rules to be differentiated between companion animals and livestock. His concern is that, if cruelty laws are not addressed in Idaho, the state will become a target for animal activist groups.

In 2008, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal advocacy group based out of California, named Idaho as one of the worst states in the nation with regard to animal cruelty laws. Specifically, they felt that the laws covering animal fighting were inadequate. Although dog fighting is a felony under state law, Idaho is one of only four states lacking a felony penalty for a broad animal cruelty law. Although previous bills have attempted to make animal cruelty a felony, all have met with failure. This is largely due to a lack of support from Idaho’s livestock producers, who fear that poorly written or highly interpretive laws, in the hands of extremists, could spell disaster for their livelihoods. Many point to California’s now infamous Proposition 2 as a prime example of the effect animal rights laws can have on the livestock industry. Under that bill, which was voted into law last November, producers must provide all animals with room to turn around and fully stretch their limbs, a rule that may yet prove devastating to California’s egg and pork industries.

Although Corder does want to strengthen the laws against all animal cruelty, he stops short of comparing his bills to Prop. 2. If anything, he says, these bills are designed to prevent something like prop. 2 from happening in Idaho. The California law was largely the result of pressure from animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and Corder points out that the same pressure could easily be applied to Idaho.

"We have a lot of folks who would like groups such as HSUS to come into Idaho and raise a fuss, and force us to do certain things with our cruelty statutes," said the Senator. "We don’t want that. We want Idaho to decide what cruelty is or is not."

He adds that, while he does feel that practices such as animal fighting need to be punishable by stricter laws, he does not think that these laws should necessarily apply to the practices of production agriculture.

"There needs to be a clear line drawn between that type of cruelty and livestock production," he said.

According to Corder, the first piece of legislation would define what animals fall under the production agriculture category. The second bill would grant the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) the authority to determine what constitutes appropriate care of these animals. The hope is that this arrangement will keep control of agricultural animal welfare in the hands of the producers.

In addition, Corder intends the ISDA to act as a cushion to prevent producers from being targeted by activist groups.

"In the future, if HSUS has a problem, their fight will be with ISDA, not with the individual producer," says Corder.

Companion animals would fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Under this mechanism, the state could strengthen or otherwise alter the laws governing pet welfare without affecting livestock owners. A third group, recreation and/or show animals, may be a possibility, although discussions along these lines are preliminary.

The commission advising Corder in this matter spans a wide variety of groups ranging from the Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to the State Veterinarian’s office and the Dairymen of Idaho.

The Idaho Farm Bureau is also involved in discussions, but Wally Butler, a lobbyist for the group, told the Associated Press that they are not yet ready to voice either support or opposition to the bill. He did note that last year’s unsuccessful effort was unclear when it came to enforcement. He also pointed out that the Farm Bureau would be unwilling to support a bill that would cause undue damage to producers.

"We support good animal husbandry, yet good agricultural production as well," said Butler.

According to the Senator, the commission is about halfway through the writing process, and it is not yet known when these pieces of legislation will be placed before the Idaho Legislature. — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent