Nassau DA Kathleen Rice renews call to reform animal protection legislation

At an April 7, 2014 news conference, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice calls attention to the New York State legislation she crafted to overhaul current animal abuse laws, which she says are antiquated. The bill has been stalled in the Assembly and Senate agriculture committees. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

At an April 7, 2014 news conference, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice calls attention to the New York State legislation she crafted to overhaul current animal abuse laws, which she says are antiquated. The bill has been stalled in the Assembly and Senate agriculture committees. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

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Some animal abusers escape harsher punishment in the state because animal protections are "tucked away" in agricultural law, next to rules on cheese marketing and bans on horses walking "plank roads," key animal advocates said yesterday in renewing calls for reform.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice urged state lawmakers and animal lovers to push for her Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill, especially Wednesday, Humane Lobby Day, when animal advocates make their cases in Albany.

It's been two years since lawmakers introduced her bill, which would transfer crimes against animals to the penal code, modernize laws and beef up sentences for some offenders.

"This bill has been looked at, pored over, edited . . . It's ready to go," Rice said at a news conference, where a screen showed photos of emaciated, matted and bloodied dogs from her past cruelty cases.

At the conference, Brian Shapiro, the Humane Society's New York director, said it makes no sense to have animal cruelty laws "next to cheese marketing" ones, while attorney Scott Heiser, from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said New York lags in animal rights after being in the forefront.

Joan Phillips, director of the Animal Lovers League of Glen Cove, and Ariella, a Chihuahua up for adoption because her owner died, were on hand to underscore the joy pets can offer.

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But the measure is stalled in the Assembly and Senate agriculture committees, where the New York Farm Bureau has said its members have no "comfort level" with Rice's plan.

Farmers fear being reported and arrested by people who misunderstand livestock management, said Kelly Young, the bureau's senior associate director for public policy. Under the penal law, farmers would have to fight the courts, she said, but under agricultural law, they can ask for a state veterinarian to evaluate allegations.

"We don't want to change that or take any teeth out of what law enforcement could do," Young said, adding that farmers want to improve the laws and support law enforcement training on animal crimes.

Jed Painter, head of Rice's animal crimes unit, said not all animal crimes will be transferred to the penal code, just primarily those police usually encounter, such as abused pets in homes.

Rice, running for the seat of retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), has also written on the issue as head of the District Attorneys Association of the state of New York. In a March letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), she said the bill would lead to more officer training, more cases and eventually a "paradigm shift" in animal protection.


Rice's animal cruelty bill

Consequences in Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill:

Paves the way for DNA and fingerprint collection of misdemeanor offenders, not just felony offenders;

Increases maximum prison sentence from 2 years to 7 years for felony animal cruelty;

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Raises the maximum sentence for felony dog fighting from 4 years to 7 years;

Allows tougher sentences for repeat offenders;

Opens the door for officers to be trained in animal cruelty laws; and

Allows prosecutors to seek "security" from defendants to pay for animal's care during the court case.

SOURCE: Nassau County district attorney's office

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