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Bill would strengthen animal cruelty laws

Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice holds Tinker, a

Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice holds Tinker, a rescued dog at the Animal Lover's League who lost both of her hind legs after being hit by a car. DA Rice and announced legislation intended to modernize and strengthen New York's animal cruelty laws. (April 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Legislation designed to update the state's antiquated animal cruelty laws, ensuring better protection for animals and tougher penalties for offenders, was unveiled Tuesday by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and two state lawmakers.

Rice and her staff drafted the legislation, which will be introduced in the State Legislature by state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) and Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan.)

"Animals hold a special place in our society, one that has changed dramatically since the criminal statutes were first written," Rice said at a news conference at the Animal Lovers League of Glen Cove. "Today, household pets and domestic animals are more than just property. They are beloved friends, trusted protectors and members of our families."

Rice, who cuddled a three-legged shelter dog through much of the conference, was honored last month by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as one of "America's Top Ten Animal Defenders."

Jed Painter, a prosecutor in Rice's animal crimes unit, said the animal cruelty laws on the books today, filed under agriculture and markets law, are so outdated that in some cases they are nearly impossible for police and prosecutors to follow. For example, he said there's a law that makes it illegal to run horses on a plank road without justification and to sell six or fewer rabbits under 2 months of age.

"I'm a prosecutor, and I don't know what a plank road is, never mind when running a horse on one would be justifiable," Painter said.

He said police arriving at a home where animals are being mistreated might be daunted by the voluminous and often nonsensical laws and opt not to make an arrest. He said the proposed laws bring the old ones up to date and take a common-sense approach to what should be illegal.

Currently, it is a felony to harm or kill someone's pet, he said, but only a misdemeanor to harm a wild animal that is not a protected species under state law. The proposed laws would make both a felony.

"This is a common-sense approach to protecting animals that need protection," Fuschillo said.

Rosenthal said the legislation will update some arcane sections of law from as far back as the late 1920s. She said doing that will ensure that heinous acts against animals are treated seriously by law enforcement and the courts.

Scott Heiser, director of the Criminal Justice Program for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement he supports the proposed legislation.

"We particularly applaud her [Rice's] efforts to create enhanced penalties for repeat offenders and for elevating the crime of animal cruelty in the first degree to qualify as a violent felony for sentencing purposes," he said.

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