Bill toughening animal abuse punishments passes Washington House

Jan 30, 2024, 1:35 AM

animal abuse...

(Photo: Fernando Lavoz/Getty Images)

(Photo: Fernando Lavoz/Getty Images)

The Washington House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1961, a piece of legislation that would strengthen animal cruelty laws, Monday. (A PDF of the bill can be viewed here.)

Animal cruelty in the first degree is a Class C felony in Washington, punishable by up to five years in prison an fine as high as $10,000.

As the House Bill report explains, commission of the offense of animal cruelty in the first degree may occur in three different ways: Intentionally inflicting pain, causing physical injury or killing an animal through undue suffering or extreme indifference to life; starving, dehydrating, suffocating or exposing an animal to extreme heat or cold that leads to “unjustifiable physical pain or death” and “knowingly engaging in, causes, aids or abets, permits, organizes, promotes, advertises, or photographs or films for the purpose of sexual gratification … with an animal.” (A PDF of the House Bill Report can be viewed here.)

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The new bill would attach a “seriousness level III offense” to all three ways of committing animal cruelty creating a level of consistency that didn’t exist previously.

“The current law, by failing to categorize the first two means of committing animal cruelty in the first degree with a seriousness level, lacks consistency and makes it difficult for prosecutors, judges and criminal defense attorneys alike to litigate animal cruelty cases with any degree of uniformity,” the House Bill Report outlines. “Because of this lack of guidance, cases involving the abuse of hundreds of animals are often prosecuted with the same severity of punishment as those involving only one abused animal.”

The bill, which passed 95-1 with two absences, was sponsored by more than a dozen legislators, including Republican Rep. Sam Low of the 39th district.

Low worked with Pasado’s Safe Haven, a Sultan-based animal sanctuary and advocacy organization, to create the bill’s language.

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“The current sentencing disparity for different types of animal cruelty sends a mixed message that some forms of barbarity are acceptable while others are not,” Low said in a prepared statement. “This legislation would provide much-needed uniformity and certainty to the justice system, ensuring appropriate penalties for anyone who chooses to inflict suffering on defenseless animals.”

The bill heads to the Washington Senate next. Senate Bill 6214, which is listed as a companion bill to House Bill 1961, has already been introduced and is in committee.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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