PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota legislative panel endorsed a measure Monday that would make animal cruelty a felony in South Dakota, the only state without such a law.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 10-2 for the measure after hearing testimony from supporters and opponents, sending the measure to the full House.
Similar proposed legislation has failed in the past. But State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven, who led the effort to write the bill, said this measure is different because animal welfare supporters, livestock groups, law enforcement officials, veterinarians and local animal control officials worked together to craft it.
“It is the result of many meetings and a lot of research,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying to be proactive. We want to clearly state what animal cruelty is and what it is not.”
Supporters of the bill include representatives from throughout the agriculture industry. They said it reorganizes the current law and protects the use of animals in agriculture and rodeo.
Opponents said Monday that the bill reflects the influence of special interest groups, it might cost the state too much money and the definitions of some terms are not clear in the bill.
Lorin Pankratz with the South Dakota Pork Producers, a supporter, said the conversation leading up to this bill began five years ago.
He said the existing law had not been updated in 20 years and that the bill was drafted by and for South Dakotans.
“We feel that is the right approach. That is the responsible approach,” Pankratz said. “We need to treat our animals and our livestock and our pets in a humane manner.”
Jeremiah Murphy with the Stockgrowers’ Association said the bill criminalizes no new acts and offers protections to those in the livestock industry.
“We don’t fear this bill,” Murphy said.
Other supporters included the state Agriculture Department and South Dakota Farm Bureau, Ag Unity, Livestock Auction Markets Association and Fighting Animal Cruelty Together.
Rep. Elizabeth May criticized the bill, saying it is a reaction to outside pressure on the issue of animal rights. The Republican from Kyle compared it to the gradual depletion of horse slaughter houses in the state.
“I just wish that common folk maybe would have been involved in this,” May said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Gosch also opposed the bill, saying some of the language was not clear. The Rapid City Republican also referred to cost estimates from the Legislative Research Council.
A report from the council estimates the changes in the bill could cost the state between $86,000 and $129,000 over ten years.
Current South Dakota law makes inhumane treatment of animals a Class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The neglect, abandonment or mistreatment of an animal would remain a misdemeanor in the bill.
However, the bill would make cruelty to animals a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of $4,000. Cruelty is defined as the intentional, willful and malicious infliction of physical abuse that causes prolonged pain, serious injury or death of an animal.
The bill already passed the Senate last month. The House will vote on the bill Tuesday.