A bill that would have raised the maximum fines for those convicted of animal cruelty failed introduction earlier this year — but Rep. Mike Gierau, D-Teton County, plans to introduce it again at the upcoming legislative session.
“I am absolutely going to try,” he said, adding that the measure received a decent amount of support at the last session.
Thirty-two representatives voted in favor of the bill in February, which was eight short of the number needed for it to be assigned to a committee for further discussion.
Since then, Gierau said he’s received “a lot” of positive feedback from the general public. But the representative said he’s struggling to garner more support from legislators.
“I’ve been working on it, but I haven’t had much success,” he said.
Cruelty to animals is currently a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $750. Aggravated cruelty to animals is currently a felony punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000.
Gierau’s proposal would have increased the maximum fine for animal cruelty to $2,500 and the maximum fine for aggravated animal cruelty to $10,000.
Explaining that Wyoming tends to rank low nationally in terms of animal rights, Gierau said he knew it would be challenging to get momentum on the bill.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national legal advocacy organization for animals, and the Humane Society of the United States both cited Wyoming as one of the worst five states for animal protections in 2017.
Gierau has said that some lawmakers are concerned the bill would harm the ranching or agricultural communities.
But Ken Hamilton, the executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation — the state’s largest organization of farmers and ranchers — said this spring that the group didn’t necessarily object to strengthening penalties for animal abusers.
“We want to make sure that it’s narrowly enough written that it doesn’t have an impact on the agricultural community,” he said.
Lisa Kauffman, the Humane Society’s Idaho director who’s temporarily filling in for Wyoming, said in May that the organization hopes Wyoming will update its animal cruelty laws. She said the current laws are vague and the penalties are too lenient.
The director said even those who aren’t concerned for animals should still pay attention to animal cruelty because it’s a red flag.
“People who become serial killers or who move into domestic violence or crimes against children — they usually start with animal cruelty,” she said, adding that the alleged school shooter in Parkland, Florida, had a history of abusing small animals.
This link has been noted by the FBI, which started keeping a database of those with animal cruelty convictions about two years ago, she said.
Kauffman said the Humane Society would like to see the fines increased to send a message that animal abuse is a serious offense. She also believes that offenders should be required to undergo counseling.
“Counseling can get that person the help they need,” she said.
The link between animal abuse and harming humans is also concerning to Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who co-sponsored the bill.
“Information I have heard from domestic violence prevention groups seem to indicate a significant correlation between those who abuse animals and go on to abuse people,” he wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune last spring.
Others think the current fines are enough.
Representative Roy Edwards, R-Campbell County, previously told the Star-Tribune that he voted against the bill because he does not believe that animals are equal to humans.
“There are already enough penalties … God left (animals) on this earth for us to take care of, not for them to dominate us.”
Follow city reporter Katie King on twitter @KatieKingCST
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