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Wendy Reuer, Published February 08 2013

North Dakota Senate passes animal abuse bill

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Senate unanimously passed a bill Friday afternoon to enact stiffer penalties against individuals who neglect, abuse or abandon animals.

Senators voted 45-0 to move Senate Bill 2211 to the House for consideration. Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, and Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, were absent.

Before hitting the Senate floor Friday, the bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, was amended on Tuesday in committee.

The amended bill still makes charges of animal cruelty an automatic felony, but it now states that a charge of neglect, abuse or abandonment be charged as a misdemeanor for the first two offenses. A third offense in 10 years will become a felony charge.

In the original bill, the second offense within five years would have been considered a felony.

“So, (offenders) have to be on better behavior for longer,” Flakoll said.

The amended bill also calls for counting an offense against a “band, flock, herd, litter, pack or other collective of same-species animals” as a singular incident. For example, an offense against a herd of cows would be considered one offense instead of one charge per animal.

Flakoll said in egregious cases of mistreatment to a group of animals, the bill allows prosecutors to seek the felony animal cruelty charge.

“It’s up to prosecutors to decide if it’s neglect or animal cruelty,” he said. “This is much, much tougher than what we have on the books now.”

Earlier this week, Triplett said she was worried the amendment was not written clearly enough to allow prosecutorial discretion.

Burleigh County Assistant States Attorney Jeff Ubben said that after reviewing the bill passed Friday, he agrees with Flakoll.

The bill’s definition of felony animal cruelty could still be used in cases of extreme neglect such as a recent case where 119 horses were seized from Bill Kiefer’s New Salem property in January after 96 horses were found dead, Ubben said.

“The bill’s definition for animal cruelty, in my opinion, would fit a lot of acts that occurred in the Burleigh County neglect case,” Ubben said.

As of Friday, no charges were filed against Kiefer, Ubben said. Because the horses were discovered in January and the bill has not become a law yet, Ubben said charges against Kiefer must be in accordance with current law. Current law makes animal neglect or cruelty a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and $2,000 in fines.

“So if this bill would have been in effect in January, I would have the discretion to charge out a class C felony,” Ubben said.

Ubben said he plans to file charges soon.

Flakoll, an 11-year animal researcher at North Dakota State University, said he has heard strong support for the bill from legislators and the public.

Nukhet Hendricks, executive director of the Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead called Friday’s passing of the bill a “giant step for animal welfare in our state.”

“It’s not perfect version, but it’s a great step in the right direction, considering there is nothing in the books right now,” she said.

Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, is part of North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care, a working group that includes veterinarians, the North Dakota Farmers Union and Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead. She said the group supports the bill and this week’s amendments.

“It not only strengthens our laws but provides opportunities to deal with infrequent but unfortunate situations,” Ellingson said. “We’re hopeful that all those that care about animals will help us support that.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530