Dishonorable Actions by NH House Leaves Wildlife Unprotected from Egregious Acts of Violence
HB 1412-FN, a common-sense bill which would safeguard the wildlife and residents of New Hampshire from egregious acts of cruelty, was tabled by the House of Representatives on February 8th.
That vote, which casts the vital bill aside; putting it at major risk of never passing, came after overwhelming support of the intent of the bill, by citizens, law enforcement, and other stakeholders, as well as an amendment to the bill which was drafted by the NH Fish and Game Department.
Speaking against HB 1412-FN on the floor was initially Rep. Spillane (Rockingham-Dist 2), who did not attend the public hearing for the bill, followed by Chairman Webb (Rockingham-Dist 6), both from the House Fish and Game Committee, and both whose statements on the House floor were deplorably misleading.
Rep. Spillane was adamant that the Fish and Game Dept. currently has statutes which lawfully protect wildlife from being 'bothered in any way,' including animal cruelty. However, very noticeable during his statement was the lack of citing any actual applicable laws.
That is because no such NH laws or regulations exist.
NH law (RSA 644:8), provides protections for domestic animals (cats, dogs, farm animals, etc.), and captive wildlife only (wildlife in zoos, sanctuaries, etc.). NH Fish and Game laws and rules provide protections for a total of 51 endangered/threatened species (RSA 212-A:5; fis 1000), as well as some for those with specific hunting seasons, such as moose (fis 300). All other species, however, are not protected from cruelty by NH law.
Forty-five states in our nation protect non-captive wildlife, as many other states do not have laws like that of NH, which differentiates between domestic, captive or non-captive; other states' laws simply protect any animal. For example, in Florida, a shark was brutally dragged behind a boat at high speeds by three individuals. All three individuals were charged with felony animal cruelty because the state of FL has laws that protect any animal, including free-roaming/non-captive wildlife, whether endangered species or not. When that case scenario was presented to the NH Fish and Game Dept., not one individual could point to an applicable NH law; meaning, they would not have been able to charge those individuals with animal cruelty if that incident occurred in NH.
Rep. Spillane and Chairman Webb collectively highlighted on the House floor, what they consider two "big problems" with HB 1412-FN:
The term 'non-captive wildlife' is too confusing
Hunters/trappers are not protected, because the bill places the proposed law in NH's Animal Cruelty Code (RSA 644:8), rather than in the Fish and Game Code (RSA Title XVIII).
On February 8th Rep. Spillane stated to the House, "No amendment was actually successfully put in front of the committee," and that "One [amendment] was attempted and then withdrawn by the sponsor."
What he omitted from his statement was that Col. Jordan, Fish and Game's Chief of Law Enforcement and Paul Sanderson, Fish and Game's Legislative Coordinator, were present during the House Fish and Game Committee's executive session for HB 1412-FN on January 23rd. At that time, Col. Jordan offered the committee an amendment (2018-0037h) which he drafted himself (HC.05/Pg 67)
Col. Jordan explained the amendment to the committee, which does the following:
1. Simplified the language, removing 'non-captive wildlife' and replacing it with 'wild animals, fish and wild birds.' (As defined in RSA 207:1)
2. Moved the bill from the Animal Cruelty Code (RSA 644:8) and placed it directly into Fish and Game Code (Title XVIII), thus ensuring the utmost protections for the sportsmen and women of NH.
Following specific inquiry from Rep. Spillane regarding farmers and homeowner rights to protect themselves and their property from wildlife, Col. Jordan also clarified that (in accordance with how HB 1412-FN was originally written), his amendment does not impact those rights stating, "...The one I wrote doesn't effect any of that, it just would make it illegal to torture an animal."
On January 23rd, the Fish and Game Dept.'s amendment, which proposed the perfect compromise and solutions to the concerns the opposition expressed regarding the language of HB 1412-FN, was explained to Chairman Webb, Rep. Spillane, and other members of the House Fish and Game Committee.
The amendment Rep. Spillane referred to that was attempted and withdrawn, was submitted by Rep. Read (Rockingham-Dist 17), which she withdrew only upon her agreement to replace it with the Col. Jordan's amendment from the Fish and Game Dept. during the executive session.
Unfortunately, following Read's withdrawal of her own amendment, Chairman Webb refused to allow the submission of the Fish and Game Dept.'s amendment, despite the fact that multiple committee members pleaded with him to do so. The committee then collectively voted (12-7) to needlessly place the bill in committee interim study, a tactic often used to kill a bill.
The fact that Chairman Webb and Rep. Spillane both stood in front of the House of Representatives denying the existence of the Fish and Game Dept.'s amendment and citing their "big problems" with HB 1412-FN, fully knowing that the amendment included specific solutions for them, is undeniably dishonorable.
In hopes that the full House would read the Fish and Game Dept.'s amendment, Rep. Read included it along with her minority report within the house calendar (which the full House also had available to them for over a week) and prepared to speak in support of the bill on the house floor.
The intention was to overturn the committee vote for interim study, then introduce the amendment.
However, discussion on the house floor came to a screeching halt, when Rep. O'Connor (Rockingham - Dist. 6) from the House Environment and Agriculture Committee motioned to table HB 1412-FN immediately after Rep. Spillane finished, preventing Rep. Read from speaking.
Rep. O'Connor's motion to table, along his timing to do so, is suspect considering the Environment and Agriculture Committee hasn't the slightest stake in wildlife cruelty.
What is even more concerning, is that SB 569-FN, one of the most comprehensive domestic animal cruelty prevention bills NH has seen in years, could potentially make its way to his committee in the coming months. When witnessing Rep. O'Connor's blatant move to stop one cruelty bill in its tracks, one can't help but wonder what his intentions will be with the other.
At that point, all Rep. Read could do was pose a parliamentary inquiry before the vote was made by the House on the motion to table, in which she asked the following,
"Mr. Speaker, if I know that, yes, this bill has been heard before, but this time we actually have an amendment that has been drafted by the Fish and Game Dept. that answers all the questions we've had before, that answers all the problems that we've had before with this bill,
And if I know, that this committee has heard multiple times about horrendous instances of cruelty to wildlife, some of which led to murders in our state, murders of people,
And if I know it's time to act on this, then I would press the red button so that we can finally hear this amendment that the Fish and Game Dept. has drafted and finally pass a bill to prevent cruelty to wildlife?"
Unfortunately, her words fell on deaf ears, as although not one resident or stakeholder expressed opposition to the intent of protecting wildlife in our state, and despite the Fish and Game Dept.'s amendment, the House of Representatives tabled the bill with a vote of 202-136.
It remains an uncertainty as to whether or not our House Representatives will collectively begin to acknowledge our state's dire need to provide the very basics of protections for our valued wildlife from the most egregious acts of violence.
Executive Session: HB 1412-FN
House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee
January 23, 2018
Full House Vote: HB 1412-FN
February 8, 2018