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Nassau DA says animal crimes bill ‘stalled’ in state legislature

Nassau DA Kathleen Rice and Ariella, a Chihuahua-mix, address reporters at a Monday news conference in Mineola.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

A New York prosecutor is calling on state legislators to enact a bill that she says would bring “sweeping reform” to animal cruelty statutes by transferring laws from the state’s agriculture law to the penal law.

At an April 7 news conference, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the proposed legislation – known as ‘The Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill’ – is “long overdue,” noting the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law dates back to the mid-19th century.

The proposal would move current animal cruelty laws from the state’s agriculture and markets law to the penal law, where most criminal laws are written. Rice says the measure would allow more accessibility for police officers to investigate suspected cruelty cases and make it easier for them to understand when they have probable cause for an arrest.

Other proposed changes in the bill include clarifying the language of the laws, enacting stricter penalties and requiring convicted offenders to offer DNA samples and fingerprints, the DA’s office said.

The legislation – initially introduced in 2012 – hadn’t made its way to the floor of either legislative body for a vote. Animal rights advocates are now planning to lobby legislators in Albany on Wednesday.

“We urge, along with DA Rice, the folks in Albany to get off their cans and make this bill a reality for the people of New York,” said Scott Heiser, the Criminal Justice Program Director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Brian Shapiro, the New York State Director for the Humane Society of the United States echoed the sentiment on Monday.

“From Bellerose to Buffalo, all across New York State, there is a call for legislators to strengthen animal cruelty laws in order to crack down on this type of criminal behavior,” Shapiro said. “Hiding animal cruelty in Ag and Markets statutes, next to regulations about how much cheese you can sell at markets, is not going to help enforce and strengthen animal cruelty laws.”

Rice said under the current law, it’s “unnecessarily hard” to prosecute animal cruelty cases, saying they were “antiquated” and “in desperate need of an overhaul.”

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the legislation, has garnered 28 cosponsors for the bill, Rice said.

In a statement, Rosenthal said: “What do adulteration of turpentine and linseed oil, the transportation of frozen desserts and animal cruelty have in common? … Nothing, except that they are all in New York State’s Agriculture and Markets Law. The inclusion of animal cruelty laws in Ag and Markets dates back to an earlier time, decades ago when animals were nothing more than mere property. … Moving animal cruelty law into the penal code merely reflects society’s changing mores respecting animals, and ensures that law enforcement officials can effectively charge and prosecutors can successfully prosecute animal abusers”

“There is no reason to wait,” Rice said. “Those who abuse animals need to be held accountable. We’re doing that here, but we need better laws to protect animals and to prosecute their abusers”

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