BOISE — The state House passed a bill Wednesday that would put felony animal abuse laws on the books in Idaho for the first time and would take the steam out of a ballot initiative by animal rights groups seeking much stiffer penalties.
Under the legislation, people convicted of torturing pets or companion animals would face a felony charge on the third offense, and organizers of gamecock fights where drugs and gambling are present would face felony charges on the first offense.
House lawmakers voted 64-4 to pass the measure, which sponsor Sen. Ken Andrus calls a realistic proposal that toughens state laws while still protecting Idaho’s agriculture industry.
“In my mind, we’ve done the prudent thing to do,” Andrus said. “I think it’s naive to think we cannot do anything.”
Idaho and the Dakotas are the only states without a felony animal cruelty law.
Idaho’s powerful agriculture industry is wary of animal cruelty measures, but livestock and production animals are exempt in this proposal.
Animal rights groups are in the process of collecting nearly 50,000 signatures to put an initiative in front of voters in November asking for first-offense felonies in some instances.
But Andrus’ bill has split support among those groups.
By acting now, lawmakers can show the public they’ve taken the issue seriously in the event the initiative makes it to the ballot, said Andrus, chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee
That committee will consider today another animal cruelty bill which was passed earlier by the Senate but deemed too weak by animal advocates.