Last debate on animal welfare bill | TSLN.com

Last debate on animal welfare bill

The 2014 South Dakota legislative session is holding the attention of livestock owners and pet lovers in the state. Senate Bill 46, an act that would provide a felony penalty for cruelty to animals, passed unanimously in the Senate and is headed to the House of Representatives on Monday, March 10. If approved by the House, the Bill would make cruelty to animals a Class 6 felony. South Dakota is the one state without such a law.

Proponents of the Bill believe this is a proactive measure to keep animal rights activists at bay and lead to improved animal welfare, particularly for pets, in the state; however, opponents are worried this is opening the door for activists to start looking at animal agriculture and whether certain acceptable practices – dehorning, castrating and slaughter, for example – are actually humane.

One such opponent, Representative Elizabeth May, a Republican from Kyle, SD, is worried about the wordage of the bill.

"Despite the fact that the bill lists exemptions for hunting and trapping, wildlife agencies, scientific experiments, and any 'usual and customary practice' in production agriculture, I worry about certain verbiage in the bill that allows a Humane Society officer to make the call on whether something is animal abuse or not. This means, for example, a rancher if charged, whether guilty or not, will require expensive legal counsel to fight for a felony that would haunt him for the rest of his life," Rep. May said. "I completely respect the hard work that everyone has put into this bill. I understand their concerns about being proactive about animal welfare instead of waiting for a group like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to come in and introduce something, but moving from a misdemeanor to a felony is overkill."

Agriculture is the number-one industry in South Dakota, and even though many agricultural groups have announced their support of the bill, May says her priority is representing her ranching constituents back home, not industry groups.

"I keep telling folks this isn't about dogs and cats," she said. "HSUS has stated openly they want to abolish animal agriculture, yet folks believe HSUS is supporting local shelters. We know HSUS has bullied other states, but they have yet to introduce something of this kind in South Dakota. If we open this can of worms, HSUS will be able to use this precedent to chip away at animal agricultural practices, as well. If ranchers are worried now about the power of HSUS, they should be really worried if this bill passes."

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May cited the example of the Atlas blizzard, which stirred up a media frenzy and concerned consumers calling for ranchers to be charged with animal abuse after tens of thousands of cattle died in the early October storm.

"Ranchers get attacked from every direction, even during the blizzard last fall, where they were victims to Mother Nature," she said. "My point is, who decides what is animal abuse? Not everyone understands animal agriculture. If this bill passes, animal agriculture is put in a vulnerable position."

May is encouraging folks to join the discussion – whether in opposition or support of the Bill – on Monday, March 10 in Pierre in the State Capitol Building on the fourth floor. The Bill will be discussed at 10 am in the House Judiciary Committee.

"I encourage folks to be there to listen to the testimonies and decide for yourself," she said. "If people don't show up, their voices won't be heard."