NH Animal & Taxpayer Protection Bill Gets 2nd Chance
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Legislation that addresses some of the most crucial problems faced by animal abuse victims, shelters, and taxpayers, was killed in May, but has risen off the table and is headed back to the House for a second chance.
SB 77-FN would've mitigated the immense financial burden on nonprofits and taxpayers to cover the cost of care for animals seized in cruelty cases, reduced long-term sheltering of animal abuse victims, and helped to prevent animal ownership by convicted abusers.
The bill had bipartisan, significant stakeholder and public support, was passed unanimously by the Senate in March, and was looking strong. That is, until it was hit with a major blow by the House.
The House Environment and Agriculture Committee adopted a partially adverse amendment to SB 77-FN, and passed it as amended, both times by a vote of 18-1. Then the vice-chair of the same Committee, Rep. Peter Bixby (Strafford-Dist 17), motioned to table the bill on the House floor.
That motion led to a vote by the House of 202-147 to table SB 77-FN, killing the bill.
NH House Agriculture Jeopardizes Animal Protection Bill
However, thanks to the steadfast leadership of the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Bradley (Wolfeboro-Dist 3), SB 77-FN was resurrected by the Senate when they voted 18-0 to attach its language to hemp study bill, HB 459.
Unfortunately, the House Environment and Agriculture Committee voted not to concur with the Senate's version of HB 459, and the bill went to a committee of conference.
A committee of conference, primarily of members from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, and House Environment and Agriculture committees was all too dreadfully familiar. Last year's comprehensive animal welfare bill, SB 569-FN, died after a long battle that included four of the same legislators during a committee of a conference last year.
Fortunately, HB 459 did not follow in the footsteps of last year's bill. The conference was surprisingly brief, and all things considered, the bill came out on a path towards an exciting and essential rebound.
For the most part, the language proposed by the Senate, which already included some compromises for the House made by Sen. Bradley, was agreed upon by all the conference members, as were a few minor word revisions proposed by Rep. Bixby.
The only snag was regarding a proposal by Rep. Howard Pearl (Merrimack-Dist 26), who wanted to insert a sentence that would allow a person charged with cruelty the right to bypass a current petition requirement to request that a veterinarian of their choice examines the seized animals, via the language below.
"Any person charged under RSA 644:8 has the right to seek a second examination of the seized animals by a licensed veterinarian, and at the accused expense, as soon as the evidence gathering has been completed by investigators."
Rep. Pearl expressed that he intended to ensure those accused of cruelty were aware of their right to request such an examination and to grant them that right without the need to petition the court, which would also speed up the process.
Under current practice, the majority of such petitions are granted by the court. However, each case is different, as are the conditions and needs of the animals, who are often recovering from varying psychological and medical issues. It's often argued that the State's designated caregiver of the animals is present for the examination done by the Defense. A discussion of the petition in the presence of a judge allows for both parties to express concerns for consideration.
Such concerns may also include the exclusion of veterinarians who are a person of interest, such as in the Wolfeboro Great Dane case. In that case, the Defendant's veterinarian allegedly witnessed evidence of cruelty and signed health certificates for dogs without noting any of their ailments or contagious diseases.
Furthermore, changing court rules within the law is a complicated process in general, which takes thorough consideration and legal counsel.
The language of SB 77-FN was several months in the making, in part, for that very reason. To change court procedure within one sentence of a bill, with literally hours remaining before the committee of conference report deadline, was less than favorable.
Sen. David Waters (Dover-Dist 4) stated, "If we're going to put this in statute the language seems a bit skinny." Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (Portsmouth-Dist 21) agreed, adding, "It's too vague."
Sen. Bradley argued that in cases of child abuse, the accused is not allowed to have a doctor of their choice examine the victim. Rep. Pearl countered that the difference lies in the fact that children are not considered property under the law, but animals are.
Rep. Robert Renny Cushing (Rockingham-Dist 21) added, "I would also examine the difference with the examination of a child ... the process of that examination in it of itself can be very traumatizing, and under our Victim Bill of Rights we take steps to preserve the dignity of the individual, and I would suggest it's a little different with animals." It is noteworthy that Rep. Cushing was potentially speaking only in terms of the law. However, many experienced animal behaviorists and veterinarians would disagree with current law regarding animal sentience.
The members decided to take a short recess to consider the proposal, and after returning the Senate offered the following compromise.
"A person charged under this section may petition the court to seek an examination of the animals by a licensed veterinarian, of his or her choice, at the expense of the person charged."
Rep. Fuller Clark pointed out that it would insert the right to file the petition in the law, and therefore, accomplish Rep. Pearl's goal of better ensuring that the accused was aware of their right to file such a request.
Rep. Pearl immediately began to point out that their offer would not remove the necessity of submitting the actual petition, as he proposed. However, Rep. Bixby quickly jumped in, stating that the Senate's offer was acceptable; showing a genuine and appreciated willingness to compromise.
With that having been the only language of debate, the conference came to a close. On June 20th, the legislators signed the committee of conference report including the language that was agreed upon and HB 459 was added to the House calendar for a vote on Thursday, June 27th.
If the House passes the bill, SB 77-FN may be one for the record books. Not only for its language revival following a tabling by the House, but for being the only animal protection bill to survive the New Hampshire House Environment and Agriculture Committee in recent years.
NH Animal Cruelty Prevention: Part I, SB 77-FN
NH House Agriculture Jeopardizes Animal Protection Bill
1. Call Your House Representative(s)
HB 459, which now includes the language of SB 77-FN, as compromised during the committee of conference, will be voted on by the full House. You may reach out to your representative(s) and urge them to pass the bill.
Deadline: Wed., June 26th 7pm
Find Your District and Representative(s) Here
If You Already Know Your District, You May Find Your Representative(s) Here
2. Email Your Representative(s)
Although calls are essential, it also helps to followup with an email or to send an email as oppose to not contacting your representative(s) at all.
Email Subject: Pass HB 459 As Recommended By The CofC
Example: "Hello, my name is [your name] from [your town]. Please pass HB 459, as recommended by the Committee of Conference. The bill includes well-considered and practical compromises, while also implementing laws that will mitigate the current immense financial burden on shelters and taxpayers for the cost to care for animals seized in cruelty cases, help prevent longterm sheltering of animal abuse victims, and prevent continued ownership of animals by convicted abusers. Thank you"
*Be sure to personalize your email