Animal Abuser Registry Legislation Sought, Stalled

In 2016, Tennessee become the first state to adopt a statewide animal abuser registry. That same year, the FBI began tracking incidents of animal abuse. But many states still await decisions for similarly proposed legislation.
Amanda Carrozza
Published: March 02, 2018
Animal Abuser Registry LegislationThe mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 has brought amplified attention to discussions of all kinds related to gun violence. Among those conversations is the link between animal abuse and violent crimes against people.

As previously reported by Veterinarian’s Money Digest®, after Tennessee launched its statewide animal abuser registry, many other state registries were proposed. While the main emphasis of the registries is to prevent convicted animal abusers from adopting or purchasing pets in the future, there is also a focus on how the registries could serve the dual purpose of identifying people who are at an increased risk of being involved in domestic violence disputes or carrying out violent attacks against other people.

The range of statistics gathered on the subject varies widely, but formal research on the connection between cruelty to animals and violent criminal behavior began as early as the 1960s. It is also widely reported that Ted Bundy, the Columbine High School shooters and the student who carried out last month’s shooting in Florida had a history of abusing animals as children.

In 2016, the FBI announced that it began tracking incidents of animal abuse, along with other major crimes like arson and assault, as part of its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Nelson Ferry, who works in the Bureau’s Criminal Statistics Management Unit, which manages NIBRS acknowledged at the time that “some studies say that cruelty to animals is a precursor to larger crime. That’s one of the items that we’re looking at.”

Since 2013, Arizona lawmakers have been pushing for an animal abuser registry, with proposed legislation ultimately failing in January 2017 after it stalled in committee and no vote was held. On Feb. 28 of this year, however, Arizona’s Senate did pass a bill that creates a class 5 felony for the “cruel mistreatment” of a domestic animal and carries a prison sentence of up to 18 months.

Although no animal abuser registry is named in the new bill — which will move to the House for a vote — a number of the state’s lawmakers did express concern over the correlation between animal abuse and violent crimes against people. As reported by Arizona Capital Times, Sen. John Kavanagh, who sponsored this bill as well as previous iterations that included the request for a registry, said the aim of the law is not additional punishment, but to allow judges to ensure that people get treated before crimes against animals turn into crimes against people.

Similar bills were introduced in the Illinois House and Senate to amend the state’s Humane Care for Animals Act and instate an animal abuser registry. Specifically, the laws would require those who commit certain offenses to register with the Department of Agriculture and pay an annual fee to the registry. The bills, introduced to the House in 2015 and the Senate in 2016, are both adjourned with no indication on the state’s website of when future discussions will resume.

New York
Not all attempts to create animal abuser registries are stagnant though. In 2014, New York City Council passed the Animal Abuse Registration Act, which requires any adult convicted of an animal abuse crime and residing in New York City to contact the city’s health department to be added to the Animal Abuse Registry. On a statewide level, however, bills proposing creation of an animal abuser registry date back to 2011. Most recently, a version of the bill was reintroduced to the 2018-2019 legislative session and is currently with the Senate Agriculture Committee and the state’s Assembly Committee.

Other States
On Jan. 8, New Jersey lawmakers unanimously passed a measure to create its own statewide animal abuser registry. The bill is awaiting signature by Gov. Phil Murphy, but if it is passed New Jersey would become the second state (behind Tennessee) to enact a statewide registry of this kind. Other states with similar proposed bills include Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

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