SC Lawmakers aim to strengthen animal cruelty laws

Published: Apr. 26, 2019 at 2:57 PM EDT
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Friday, April 26, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are considering legislation to strengthen animal cruelty laws.

Members of the House Criminal Laws subcommittee met Thursday and approved a Senate proposal that establishes new animal shelter standards, addresses disaster response for licensed veterinarians, and creates penalties for those convicted of cruel tethering of dogs.

Subcommittee Chairman Chris Murphy said the changes in the bill are overdue.

"This bill has languished for a number of years," the North Charleston Republican lawmaker said.

An average of 14 people a year have been sent to prison over the past five years for animal cruelty, according to data from state prison officials used in a fiscal impact statement attached to the bill.

Lawmakers voted Thursday to change part of the bill to define cruel tethering as causing injury or illness by using a restraint that is too short or too heavy for an unattended dog to move around or hinders the dog's access to adequate food, water or shelter. Those convicted on a first offense could face up to 90 days in prison and fined $100 to $1,000. If convicted on subsequent offenses, could be fined $500 to $1,000 and serve no more than a year in prison.

The legislation would also require magistrate and municipal court judges to participate in at least two hours of continuing education on animal cruelty every four years. The training is necessary because they are the judges that most frequently handle animal cruelty cases, said Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, attorney and state director for the Humane Society.

"Often those cases are presented by animal control officers who aren't members of the South Carolina Bar and who haven't necessarily had instruction and training on how to qualify certain witnesses, evidence and provide testimony," Gilmore-Futeral said.

The bill would also allow for licensed veterinarians or veterinary technicians in good standing to apply for an emergency limited license to practice medicine in a different jurisdiction during times of emergencies or natural disasters.

It is essential for lawmakers to pass this bill this year with hurricane season approaching in a little over a month, Joe Elmore with the Charleston Animal Society said.

"If this bill gets pushed into 2020, that's another hurricane season, that's another lost opportunity for us to be more expedient, provide a better response to citizens across South Carolina particularly the Lowcountry," Elmore said.

Murphy said the bill will be on the full House Judiciary committee agenda next week. There are only six working days remaining in the legislative session.

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