June 22, 2019
TN PAWS Act
By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
The TN Protection of Animal Welfare & Safety Act, also known as the TN PAWS Act – HB0852 /SB1277, was scheduled for a hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on March 20, 2019 in Nashville, TN.
Introduced by Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris), the Animal Cruelty and Abuse bill would amend TCA Title 29, Chapter 3; Title 39; Title 63, Chapter 12; and Title 66, relative to animals. “As introduced, [the bill] enhances the punishment for a second or subsequent conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals or a first conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals involving five or more animals, from a Class E felony to a Class C felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days; requires that 100 percent of the minimum sentence be served.” (http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB0852&GA=111)
The Act amends TCA §39-14-212 by deleting subsection (d) and substituting instead the following:
“(d) Aggravated cruelty to animals is a Class E felony. A second or subsequent violation or a violation involving five (5) or more animals is a Class C felony, punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of one hundred eighty (180) days and the person shall serve at least one hundred percent (100%) of the minimum sentence.” Plans are for the bill to take effect on July 1, 2019.
WENK/WTPR reported that Rep. “Griffey was inspired to write the bill based upon his and his wife’s experience as prosecutors handling animal cruelty cases. ‘Tennessee is currently ranked as a middle tier state with respect to animal protection laws and I want to make Tennessee a top tier state,” Griffey said. ‘I have frequently seen prosecutors suspending sentences for animal crimes so animal abusers serve no time in jail. My bill would change that and create mandatory sentences as well as mandatory fines, which are currently not in place. Those fines would go to animal shelters, humane societies, and animal rescue organizations.’” (http://www.wenkwtpr.com/2019/03/17/hearing-for-rep-griffeys-tennessee-paws-act-set-this-week/)
On the Tennessee State Senate side, SB1277 was introduced by Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and it passed on first consideration 2/7/2019. It was passed on second consideration and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee 2/11/2019. No further action in March.
Lori Collins, of Redemption Road Rescue in Jackson, TN, testified at the hearing on Wednesday (March 20). She said, “The hearing went well and we had good response from the committee. We shared a history of what we do [at Redemption Road] and what we’ve been through. The bill was not voted on because there was some wording that needed correction. When that is done, it will come back before the committee for a vote.
“We want to get stronger penalties for animal abuse. Most animal abuse cases, now, are misdemeanors or Class E felonies, the lowest charge possible. We want to increase that to a Class C felony or a higher penalty.
“One of the main difficulties that rescue organizations have now is the cost of caring for these animals. The county puts animals into rescue custody, but there are no resources to pay for the high costs of their care. We want to implement, at least, some minimal costs from the owner; the owner should pay for the care of their animals. We also want to make it more difficult for those convicted of animal abuse or neglect to obtain animals again.
“It will be good if this bill passes; it will be good for animals all across Tennessee. And when it comes up again, we would like for as many people as possible to go to Nashville supporting its passage.” Redemption Road Rescue is located in Jackson, Tenn.
Veterinarian Jennifer Dunlap, DVM commented about the bill.
“I would be very happy if this bill passes. This would make Tennessee a top tier state for animal protection. I like to see minimum sentences and fines made into law because it makes it easier on law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and juries, and sometimes this can be a deterrent to committing a crime in the first place.
“Just as importantly, this bill calls for escalating minimum fines, which would go to law enforcement, shelters, humane societies and rescues who are caring for the victimized animals. One of the biggest hurdles to going after animal abusers is the cost of care of the animals and a facility to care for them, especially in small rural towns and counties.
“So many times it's not that law enforcement doesn't want to help, it's that they don't have the resources, and private rescues who are already overburdened have limited resources as well. They are justifiably concerned about stepping up to care for animals for possibly months, even years, while things get duked out in court.
“Having minimum fines would give agencies the resources to care for the victimized animals and make it easier for rescues and response teams to assist law enforcement. Rescuing [abused/neglected] animals costs a lot of money, even when an animal is immediately surrendered by the abuser. Because of physical injuries that must be treated, and many times the psychological trauma an animal victim
sustains, it may take even longer to heal.
“Working animal cruelty cases can also be very emotional for responders. Knowing that abusers will face harsher sentences really helps responders and law enforcement know that they are making a difference and, hopefully, ending the cycle of abuse, instead of picking up the same animal abuser again and again and seeing him or her face few repercussions for his or her actions.”
State officials also have difficulties handling and prosecuting animal abuse/neglect cases. They see a definite need to “beef up” the consequences and streamline the process for handling animal abuse/neglect crimes.
You can follow the progress of this bill at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/111/Bill/HB0852.pdf
Find more information about Redemption Road Rescue at: https://redemptionroadrescue.com/
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