AUGUSTA – A legislative committee on Friday unanimously approved a measure that would allow courts to speed up trials involving animal abuse and would allow probation for offenders.
The original proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, would have allowed cases involving 25 animals or more to be tried as felonies. But that provision was dropped by the committee in part due to its potential cost to the state.
Supporters said by allowing probation in cases of animal welfare, repeat offenses could be prevented. They cited as evidence a recent case in Farmington involving a repeat animal abuser who ended up using a stun gun on a police officer.
“That situation that we’ve all heard about in the news the last day or so, the woman who was left to hoard (animals), wouldn’t be in that position had they been able to have probation,” said state Rep. Wendy Pieh, D-Bremen, the House chairwoman of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “They would have been able to deal with that and she wouldn’t have accumulated a whole bunch more animals again.”
State Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, the committee’s Senate chairman, said serious savings could be found by allowing for what’s known as “good cause” to be shown in court to speed up proceedings for animal welfare cases.
“Three cases in 2008 cost the department $660,000,” he said. “By allowing for good cause, the department would not have to take care of all these animals intensely for a period of several months as they have in the past.”
Simpson said she wasn’t surprised the committee decided against upgrading to felonies cases involving more than 25 animals, because of the anticipated cost.
“But I thought it was important to have the conversation,” she said. “I’m pleased to hear the probation part would be restored because it could stop people from repeating behavior, which is really tragic and terrible. It’s important that something came out of it and I think the probation piece is really important for the protection of animals.”
The bill will be scheduled for consideration by the full Legislature in the coming weeks.