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Published March 12 2013

Forum editorial: North Dakota Farm Bureau’s duplicity

The North Dakota Farm Bureau has pulled a stunt at the Legislature that might come back and bite the organization in the butt. Having been among supporters of legislation that would impose felony penalties for specific definitions of animal cruelty, abuse and neglect, the Farm Bureau backed away after the bill had unanimously passed the North Dakota Senate. The reversal came during a House committee hearing on the bill, SB2211.

To the immense irritation of the bill’s sponsors and supporters, the Farm Bureau abandoned legislation it helped write – and was supportive of the felony provision until the surprise testimony in committee. The bureau did a 180, and now wants proposed penalties reduced from a Class C felony (for a third offense) to a Class A misdemeanor. The bureau also wants to limit the definition of neglect to make it almost meaningless in the broader context of abuse, neglect and cruelty.

The last-minute reversal stinks like a rotting dead animal. It suggests the Farm Bureau’s agenda is to keep penalties for animal abuse and neglect as minimal as possible. It flies in the face of the bureau’s previous position on the promise of legislative action, which was one of the reasons farm organizations and other groups opposed Measure 5 on the November ballot. The measure was defeated by 65 percent of voters. The expectation – a commitment, really – was that the Legislature would craft an animal welfare bill that was broader and more palatable to farmers and ranchers, which is exactly what lawmakers did. Moreover, in the bureau’s own 2013 policy issues, members voted to support the bill as it is.

It’s a classic bait-and-switch, which has the prime sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, hopping mad. He reminded the committee the bill was worked on for several years by ag groups, veterinarians and local animal shelter operators. “It’s a bill whose time has come,” he said.

The senator is right, not only because the bill is carefully structured to accommodate the legitimate needs and concerns of farmers and ranchers, but also because the recent horrific case of neglect and abuse of horses in Burleigh and Morton counties demonstrates the need for tougher penalties.

Should the Farm Bureau’s shuck and jive scuttle the bill, the fallout will be immediate and significant. Animal welfare advocates who expected the Legislature to act sensibly will join with individuals and organizations that had no faith in the Legislature to begin with, in another effort to put the matter on the ballot. The bureau has damaged its credibility with lawmakers and will have the same problem with voters. Support for a felony animal cruelty law that might be tougher than Flakoll’s bill could be stronger, in part because of the Farm Bureau’s duplicity.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.