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  • Gina Scrofano

NH House Agriculture Jeopardizes Animal Protection Bill - Again



While still in the wake of the House Environment and Agriculture Committee's lack of meaningful compromise, causing the death of last year's animal welfare bill SB 569-FN, the Committee has once again jeopardized legislation proposed to protect animals and residents.


Animal protection bill SB 77-FN was passed unanimously by the Senate on March 7th, and it was with good reason. New Hampshire has experienced a slew of devastating animal cruelty cases that not only cost nonprofits and taxpayers millions, but also contributed to continued animal ownership by convicted abusers, and the unnecessary long-term sheltering of animal abuse victims. SB 77-FN, as amended by the Senate, proposed well-considered and practical ways of mitigating those crucial issues.


After passing the Senate, the bill was placed in the hands of the House Environment and Agriculture Committee (aka House Agriculture), who adopted a partially adverse amendment, then motioned to table the bill on the House floor.


The language of the bill has now been added to HB 459, which is headed to a committee of conference where the Senate and House will once again battle over an essential bill for New Hampshire's animals and residents.



A Conflicting Amendment


The House Agriculture's amendment included some acceptable compromises, agreed to by the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro-Dist 3), as well as an appreciated re-implementation of a previous NH law requiring health certificates for animals transferred by pet vendors, which was removed from the law in 2017.


However, it also contained unfavorable language, such as, but not limited to, a commercial breeder definition that maintains our current detrimental breeder licensing threshold and a controversial 'cost of care fund.'



Cost of care


Cost of care is the expense related to the care of animal abuse victims while cruelty cases are prosecuted, which can take nearly two years. That expense falls on the shoulders of animal shelters, humane societies, and residents, via donations. When nonprofits can't afford that cost, it falls on the municipalities, equaling residents' funds via state taxes.


In less than three years, NH has experienced seven animal cruelty cases involving unlicensed breeders, adding up to a reported $3.4 mil in cost of care, and counting.

House Agriculture Maintains Detrimental Breeder Licensing Threshold


Our current law, which requires the licensure of breeders who transfer/sell 50 puppies or 10 liters per year, has led to the current regulation of a mere 8 out of the estimated thousands of breeders in NH; causing a lack of oversight and significantly contributing to the most large-scale and expensive cases.


House Agriculture's amendment inserted a commercial breeder definition into the bill, adding kittens and juvenile ferrets, but keeping the licensing threshold at 50 puppies/10 liters per year [1723h].


Maintaining a threshold that contributes to the highest cost of care contradicts the intent of SB 77-FN, which is to mitigate those expenses.


Furthermore, their amendment conflicts with the language of SB 161, which is going through the legislative process, and would create a pet vendor definition of 25 dogs or cats, and 30 ferrets per year.


NH Animal Cruelty Prevention, SB 161 / HB 2 Pet Vendor Definition



House Agriculture Adopts Controversial Cost of Care Fund


HB 501-FN was introduced this year by members of House Agriculture, Rep. John O'Connor (Rockingham-Dist 6) and Rep. Peter Bixby (Strafford-Dist 17). The concept was to reallocate state funds, which are currently obtained from dog licensing and commercial animal feed distribution fees, into a 'cost of care fund.' Nonprofits could then apply for money from that fund to help cover the expenses for animals seized as part of cruelty cases.


According to their public testimony, the NH Municipal Association (NHMA) supported the notion but opposed the reallocation of the existing funds. The assoc. requested that dog licensing fees were increased to compensate, costing residents additional funds to cover it. HB 501 required additional revisions, and House Agriculture voted to retain (keep as opposed to passing or killing) the bill, in February.


They then revised the language of HB 501 and proposed its addition as an amendment to SB 77-FN [1530h], on April 17th. While much of the language was greatly improved, the funding mechanism was also changed, which caused major push-back.


To oblige the NHMA, they added the fee increases in their amendment. Although the fee increases were minimal ($0.50 per individual dog license fee), the language was met with strong resistance from members of the Republican party, who pledged no increased fees to residents.


On April 23rd, House Agriculture discussed the matter during the executive session for the bill, explicitly acknowledging that the cost of care fund was controversial and that it was putting SB 77-FN at risk of a veto from Governor Sununu.


However, rather than remove the fund from their amendment, they changed the language once more, omitting the dog license fee increase and again, taking existing state funds [1723h].


House Agriculture then adopted the amendment with the cost of care fund included and voted to pass SB 77-FN as amended, both times by a vote of 18-1; actions that led to their own motion to table the bill on the House floor, citing that the fund was flawed.



House Agriculture Tables SB 77-FN After Their Vote To Amend and Pass It


In light of House Agriculture's amendment, two sponsors of SB 77-FN, (Rep. Katherine Rogers, Rep. William Marsh), planned to introduce a floor amendment when the bill faced the full House on May 8th, which removed some of the unfavorable language but kept the bill's intent intact.


However, before they could introduce their floor amendment, Rep. Bixby, vice-chair of House Agriculture, motioned to table SB 77-FN, citing unjustifiable reasons for doing so.


Rep. Bixby stated that the bill as unamended "... creates serious due process problems," and within the House amendment's cost of care fund section "...a flaw had been recently identified in the funding mechanism for the fund..."


Following Rep. Bixby's motion, the House voted to table the bill 202-147. That vote essentially killed SB 77-FN, as the deadline for the House to vote on the bill was the following day; leaving no time to make adjustments and re-vote this year.


Rep. Howard Pearl, who was part of the conference that led to the death of animal welfare bill SB 569-FN last year, and also motioned to table animal fighting paraphrenia bill this year, contributed to House Agriculture's amendment to SB 77-FN.


When discussing the tabling of the bill and the cost of care fund, Rep. Pearl reportedly stated, "We were kind of boxed in on both sides from folks who didn't want any of the licensing money now used for this and those who were totally against a new fee. So it went nowhere."


Boxed in indeed, but unmentioned was the fact that House Agriculture put themselves there, by attaching the cost of care fund to SB 77-FN, to begin with.

To be fair, funds collected for dog licensing fees should be dedicated to animals. Currently, towns do allocate a small portion of the funds into a state spay/neuter program [RSA 437-A], and a veterinary diagnostic laboratory [RSA 466:9]. However, most towns place the remaining fees collected into their general funds.


House Agriculture's fund is a creative way of addressing the cost of care, and the legislators' efforts in drafting it are truly appreciated.


However, SB 77-FN intended to prevent the depletion of already minimal municipal funds due to the cost of care, which can be in the millions per case, making the approach to use existing funds counterproductive.


And ultimately, whether reallocating existing funds or increasing dog licensing fees, their cost of care fund would continue to force expenses for animal abuse victims to be paid by taxpayers, who were not initially responsible for the cost to care for the animals, nor responsible for the cruelty to them. Meanwhile, animals are forced to stay in shelter environments and their convicted abusers are not paying one cent towards their care.


With the NHMA opposed, the parties divided, and the concept being contradictive, the cost of care fund was too complicated to include in SB 77-FN; a direr bill that House Agriculture was fully aware, before they adopted the amendment, would help mitigate the cost of care and was well-considered, bi-partisan, and strongly supported without it.



Well Supported To Potential Veto


As introduced, SB 77-FN was supported by the NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, the Department of Agriculture, the NH Federation of Humane Organizations, NH Veterinary Technician Assoc., local shelters, humane societies, cruelty investigators, NH sportsmen, countless residents, and ironically, the NH Municipal Assoc.


Members of the American Kennel Club and their NH federation, the Dog Owners of the Granite State, were the only entities to testify against the bill during the public hearing on February 7th.


Support included the Governor's Commission on the Humane Treatment of animals, and the Governor's potential veto of SB 77-FN came only after House Agriculture amended the bill.



Due Process Misconceptions


Assertions that SB 77-FN is a threat to due process are utterly unfounded. The opposition perpetuates this misconception in an attempt to frame the legislation as an attack on dog owners and breeders.

Under current law [644:8 IV (b)], if a Defendant convicted of animal cruelty files an appeal, the court may impose a bond of up to $2,000 per animal for the cost of their care, to maintain ownership throughout the appeal; meaning that if left unpaid, their ownership is forfeited. That law has been in place for approximately 20 years.


However, the law does not include a deadline, which has caused animals to stay in the ownership of those convicted of animal cruelty for several months, without having to pay towards their care. This also delays placement of the animals into new loving homes, and they often must live in shelters during the appeal, paid for by nonprofits and residents via donations or taxes.


SB 77-FN added a deadline of 14 days; if the bond isn't paid within that period, the ownership of the animals is forfeited and they have the chance to find appropriate homes, also ceasing cost of care expenses. House Agriculture's amendment changed that period to 30 days, and also gave the court the authority to extend it by an additional 15 days, for good cause. Regardless of the timeframe, the deadline merely makes existing law enforceable.



Senate Gives the House and SB 77-FN One Last Chance


In an effort to save SB 77-FN, the Senate attached the bill's language to HB 459, a bill that establishes a committee to study the federal guidelines on growing hemp.


Admittedly, this is not ideal, as SB 77-FN has nothing to do with industrial hemp; making the amendment non-germane (unrelated to the original intent of HB 459). However, NH residents and the victims of animal cruelty are in dire need of the success of SB 77-FN, and this is the last chance to get the legislation passed this session.


The language included in the amendment to HB 459, is of SB 77-FN as it was passed by the Senate in March, along with the additional compromises from Sen. Bradley and the bill's Senate co-sponsors to appease the American Kennel Club and House Agriculture.


Such compromises include the House's extended period for the deadline on the cost of care/appeal bond, a requirement that the court consider the Defendant's income when determining the bond amount, and clarification of current practice, which allows the courts to grant co-owners custody of animals seized, if in the best interest of the animals.


"These are all, in my opinion, reasonable compromises," said Sen. Bradley, before the Senate voted 18-0 to adopt the amendment to HB 459 on May 23rd.


"When, hopefully, this bill goes back to our friends in the House, attached to the hemp bill," Bradley added, "they get a second chance to look at it and hopefully, finally, do the right thing."

Unfortunately, that has yet to come to fruition. The House had the opportunity to accept the Senate's amended version of HB 459 but voted not to concur on June 6th.


SB 77-FN, now as part of HB 459-FN, will head to a committee of conference. The conference will include appointed members from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the House Environment and Agriculture Committee who's battle will either lead to a compromise or the death of the bill.


We can only hope that the bill will not follow in the dreadful footsteps of the essential animal welfare bill that died in committee last year.





Contact The Conference Committee

SB 77 was passed unanimously by the Senate, then amended and tabled by the House in May. The language of the bill was then added to HB 459, by the Senate. The House did not concur with the Senate's version of HB 459, so there will now be a committee of conference between appointed members from the House and of the Senate. We may contact the conference members and urge them to pass HB 459 as amended by the Senate.


Deadline

The first date of the conference is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19th. Additional meetings may follow, however, it is uncertain when the meetings will come to a close. We must contact the members ASAP.


1. Call Your Legislator(s) If They Sit On The Conference Committee

When calling Senators, you will be speaking with a staff member, or leaving a voicemail message. Numbers for House Representative's are often personal so be sure to call during appropriate hours (M-F, 7:30am-7:30pm).


Find Your District and Legislators Here

Committee Members:

Rep. Peter Bixby: 603.749.5659

Rep. Robert Renny Cushing: 603.926.2737

Rep. Howard Pearl: 603.231.1482

Rep. Amanda Gourgue: 603.397.0505

Sen. Jeb Bradley: 603-271-3207

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark: 603-271-2609

Sen. Dan Feltes: 603-271-3042



2. Email The Conference Committee Members

Emails: Jeb.Bradley@leg.state.nh.us; Martha.FullerClark@leg.state.nh.us; Dan.Feltes@leg.state.nh.us; Amanda.Gourgue@leg.state.nh.us; Peter.Bixby@leg.state.nh.us; Howard.Pearl@leg.state.nh.us; renny.cushing@leg.state.nh.us


Subject: Pass HB 459 As Amended by the Senate


Example: "Hello, my name is [your name] from [your town]. I kindly urge you to please pass HB 459, as amended by the Senate. I'm thankful to the Senate for adding the language of SB 77-FN to the bill, which currently includes well-considered and practical compromises for the House, while keeping it's original intent to mitigate the current immense financial burden on shelters and taxpayers for the cost to care for animals seized as part of cruelty cases, help prevent longterm shelling of animal abuse victims, and prevent continued ownership of animals by convicted abusers, intact. Thank you"


-Please personalize your message.





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