After an arduous campaign full of twists and turns, a crucial bill protecting animals, taxpayers and nonprofits has survived the New Hampshire state Legislature and now heads to the Governor's desk for signature.
The legislation, created to reduce long-term sheltering of animal abuse victims, help prevent future animal ownership of convicted abusers, and mitigate the immense financial burden on nonprofits and taxpayers to cover the cost of care for animals seized as part of cruelty cases, was officially passed for the last time today with a voice vote by the House.
This was the final challenge the bill had to conquer before heading to Governor Sununu, who after ensuring the House did not include any sections of his disapproval, is likely to sign the bill without pause.
How It Began
With multiple animal cruelty cases occurring in New Hampshire and costing nonprofits and taxpayers millions, the matter of the cost of care was becoming more crucial each year.
Sen. Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro-Dist 3), with the insight of Lindsay Hamrick, Director of Policy for the Humane Society of the United States, as well as from local humane societies, shelters, prosecutors and law enforcement, proposed a cost of care law last year, as part of comprehensive animal welfare bill, SB 569-FN. However, the bill died despite exhaustive efforts, due to lack of meaningful compromise from the House Environment and Agriculture Committee. And just like that, it was back to the drawing board for the cost of care.
Before its introduction, SB 77-FN went through, yet another, thorough, transparent, and lengthy compromise process via multiple stakeholder meetings, which included the few against the bill, as well as discussions among legislators, the Governor's Commission on the Humane Treatment of animals, and the Judicial Branch.
SB 77-FN had robust support in the Senate, among both parties and also including the NH Federation of Humane Organizations, the NH Assoc. of Chiefs of Police, Governors Commission on the Humane Treatment of animals, the Department of Agriculture, the NH Municipal Assoc., NH Veterinary Technician Assoc., local shelters, humane societies, cruelty investigators, NH sportsmen, licensed animal behaviorists, and countless residents.
The only opposition came from members of the American Kennel Club and their NH federation, the Dog Owners of the Granite State.
The Battle Continued
With its significant bipartisan, stakeholder and public support, SB 77-FN 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 proposed an amendment to the bill that included a dog licensing fee increase of $.50 per license, which prompted a threat of a veto from Gov. Sununu who vowed no fee or tax increases to residents.
The Committee omitted the fee increase, but their amendment remained partially adverse, due to new opposition from the NH Municipal Assoc., and the Committee's proposed continuance of NH's current detrimental breeder licensing threshold, which significantly contributes to the most large-scale and expensive cruelty cases. Yet, the Committee adopted the amendment and passed SB 77-FN as amended, both times by a vote of 18-1 in April.
The vice-chair of the same committee, Rep. Peter Bixby (Strafford-Dist 17), then motioned to table the bill on the House floor. Despite efforts from Rep. Katherine Rogers (Merrimack-Dist 28) and Rep. William Marsh (Carroll-Dist 8) to save it, that motion led to a vote by the House of 202-147 to table SB 77-FN, killing the bill on May 8th.
However, SB 77-FN wasn't going down that easily. Thanks to the steadfast leadership of Sen. Bradley, the language of SB 77-FN was resurrected by the Senate when they voted 18-0 to attach it to hemp study bill, HB 459.
Following its revival by the Senate, the legislation took another hit by the House Environment and Agriculture Committee, when they voted not to concur with the Senate's version of HB 459 on June 6th. The legislation then headed 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.
The only issue was a sentence proposed by Rep. Howard Pearl (Merrimack-Dist 26) that would allow a person charged with cruelty the ability to bypass a current petition requirement to request that a veterinarian of their choice examines the seized animals. The petition requirement is a long-standing court procedure that protects animal abuse victims, as well as criminal evidence.
With it being a complicated judicial matter, and Rep. Pearl's language rather vague, the Senate members disagreed with its adoption. They recommended language clarifying that an accused has the right to submit such a petition to the court; ensuring that those charged with cruelty are aware of that right based on current court rules; which according to Rep. Pearl, was partially his intent. Yet, he disputed the Senate's offer, pushing for complete removal of the petition requirement. However, his contention was quickly silenced by Rep. Bixby, who agreed to the Senate's compromise.
A Victory For Animals, Taxpayers and Nonprofits
On June 20th, the report from the committee of conference recommending the adoption of HB 459 with the language from SB 77-FN included, was signed; leading to the House's vote to pass the bill today.
Thanks to years of exhaustive efforts and insight from those batting cruelty and caring for animal victims every day, and the unwavering support from legislators and countless advocates, the language of SB 77-FN became one of the only animal protection proposals to survive the House Environment and Agriculture Committee in recent years.
The Wolfeboro Great Danes who spent 451 days in a shelter, the German shepherds of Alexandra and Bristol who have lived in a shelter for 561 days and those who remain there today, and numerous other animal abuse victims who have been denied their chance to find forever homes for far too long, have taught us an invaluable lesson, leading to today's success. May that truth never be forgotten, and it may it continue to lead us towards a brighter future for New Hampshire's animals and residents.
The Death of NH's Animal Cruelty Bill: Part V, Inspections (see 'The Final Moments of the Conference, and SB 569-FN')