Lawmakers to vote on whether to make animal cruelty felony crime

Animal cruelty considered misdemeanor in some states

By Madeleine Wright - Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Animal cruelty is already a crime in all 50 states, but in some states it's a misdemeanor, while in others, it's a felony.

A new law being pushed by Florida lawmakers would make animal cruelty a felony.

Connie, a pit bull mix, is one of about 400 pets at the Broward County Animal Care and Adoption Center, where on Monday morning, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., laid out his plan to crack down on animal cruelty.

"There is one issue that we can all agree on and that's making animal abuse a federal crime," he said. 

The law is called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or PACT Act.

It would make crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling and sexually exploiting animals a federal crime, punishable by fines, up to seven years in prison or both.

The goal is to close a loophole in a federal law that punishes the distribution of images depicting animal cruelty, but not the cruelty itself.

"While all 50 states have felony animal cruelty penalties, we do need this on the federal level, to prohibit animal cruelty that crosses state lines," said Kate MacFall, the Florida state director for the Humane Society of the U.S.

The proposal already has the support of animal rights activists, other lawmakers and sheriff deputies.

"These types of crimes are precursors to other crimes against persons," Broward Sheriff's Office Capt. Ed Sileo said. 

"There's an alarming study that showed that 71 percent of domestic violence survivors who have pets reported their abusers threatened, injured or killed their pets," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said. 

Deutsch joined fellow Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., in re-introducing the bill last month.

The bill was first introduced in March 2017, but despite broad support, it stalled.

"There was one committee chairman who refused to allow this to go forward as hard as we tried," Deutch said. 

Deutch is hoping the law gets passed within the next couple months.

He said it first has to pass the House Judiciary Committee, and then it will go to a full House vote.

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