The Legislature is amid a bit of a standstill due to the pandemic. However, meetings have continued for bills that already received a public hearing and were headed to a second committee within the same chamber.
Such was the case with HB 1606-FN and HB 1117-FN, which both received public hearings and were passed by the House in February, then referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
And on Thursday, HB 1606-FN was passed by the Committee - unanimously.
HB 1606-FN Roll Call
Primarily sponsored by Representative Ellen Read (Rockingham-Dist. 17), the crucial bill would make the purposeful beating, torture, or mutilation of free-roaming wildlife a felony.
Existing law has those protections for domestic animals and wildlife in captivity (zoos, sanctuaries, etc.), but not free-roaming animals (RSA 644:8). This dreadful loophole prevents the suitable prosecution for malicious cruelties, such as lighting a turtle on fire, setting fireworks off on a skunk, or beating a dunk to death.
Even when involving species subject to hunting laws and rules, such violent acts would result in violations, which comes with a minor monetary fine.
Representative Read stated HB 1606-FN, "Creates a commonsense criminal penalty to protect wildlife from those who would inflict pain and suffering gratuitously, for the sole purpose of inflicting pain and suffering."
The bill exempts all lawful activity within the Fish and Game Code and administrative rules, including hunting, trapping, and fishing, as well as resident's rights to protect themselves and their property. HB 1606-FN was written with direct insight from Col. Jordan, Chief of Law Enforcement, and Paul Sanderson, Legislative Coordinator, of the Fish and Game Dept.
Evidence linking animal cruelty and human violence became so compelling that the FBI began tracking such cases nationally and categorizing them as 'a crime against society' in 2016. HB 1606-FN allows for suitable prosecution for egregious cruelties to wildlife, while also giving law enforcement a tool to identify those who have an increased chance of harming people, and potentially prevent such harm.
Protecting NH Wildlife From Egregious Cruelty, HB 1606-FN
Primarily sponsored by Rep. Brian Sullivan (Sullivan-Dist. 1), HB 1117-FN establishes felony-level penalties for the theft, or intentional poisoning of a dog, as well as misdemeanor penalties for the willful removal of a dog's collar or microchip (by anyone other than the dog's owner or their agent).
The bill has an exemption for collar removal by law enforcement if an animal is in imminent danger. Unfortunately, the exemption does not include 'Good Samaritans.' Ultimately, however, the bill provides important protections for our canine companions.
Although animals are considered property, existing theft law in NH is not interpreted nor enforced in a way that includes them. This, in part, is because a specific dog-theft law exists (RSA 466:42-a). However, that law currently has a misdemeanor-level penalty.
The Committee was faced with weighing whether a felony-level penalty is suitable for the theft or poison of a dog. NH's existing general theft law includes tiers based on the value of property stolen; up to $1,000 is a misdemeanor, $1,000 - $1,500 a class B felony, over $1,500 a class A felony (RSA 637:11).
However, some members of the Committee justifiably expressed that, although dogs can be expensive, their companionship is invaluable.
Representative Terry Roy (Rockingham-Dist. 32) pointed out that veterans coping with PTSD rely on their dogs to get through their daily lives. He expressed that despite their monetary value, they are companion animals, and their theft warrants a felony.
Considering the mindset of a person who steals a dog, was Representative Daryl Abbas (Rockingham-Dist. 8). "The person who commits this crime, they know exactly what they are doing. They apparently could care less about the victim's property interest, they could care less about that person's emotional attachment to the animal," he said. "To deter that conduct, it should be at least a class B felony."
Representative Kimberly Rice (Hillsborough-Dist. 37) followed with a very clear and concise point.
"My rescue dog is priceless to me," Representative Rice stated. "The value she brings to our family and home, you can't put a dollar sign in front of."
The Committee then passed HB 1117-FN, with a vote of 17-3.
HB 1117-FN Roll Call
Both HB 1606-FN and HB 117-FN are scheduled for a final vote by the full House, who are preparing to convene at UNH's Whittemore Center on June 11th. Although the future is uncertain for these bills, as well as the remainder of this year's legislative session, we can take a moment to celebrate this significant success for animals and residents.
House Criminal Justice Committee, work session and executive session, May 21, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BadbRylnhTM, last visited May 22, 2020