By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — Repeat animal abusers would face increased penalties under various proposals being considered by state lawmakers.
Repeat offenses would be a felony under legislation considered Tuesday by an Iowa Senate subcommittee, and actions that result in a serious injury to an animal would be aggravated misdemeanors.
State law excludes livestock and wildlife and exempts a pet’s owner from animal abuse charges, and the proposed legislation does not change that.
Iowa is one of four states in which animal cruelty is not a felony on the first offense, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The bill was brought by Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, after a hunting dog trainer in Pottawattamie County pleaded guilty to 12 counts of animal negligence.
Authorities, responding to a complaint, found four animals dead and at least three dozen malnourished dogs at the trainer’s kennel.
An aggravated misdemeanor, the elevated level in the bill, results in a sentence of up to two years and a fine between $625 and $6,250.
A Class D felony, the bill’s suggestion for a second offense, results in a sentence up to five years and a fine between $750 and $7,500.
“We want to ensure that the bad actors are appropriately taken care of, and the good actors aren’t affected,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, who served on the subcommittee.
The proposal was met with concerns from both sides at Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing.
A representative of an animal welfare organization said the proposal sets too high a legal bar to get a conviction for animal abuse.
An Iowa dog breeder said she is concerned the bill does not differentiate intent from negligence, and the latter should not necessarily be punished.
Shipley, who put together the bill with Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said he takes it as a positive sign he is hearing both support and concern from stakeholders.
“Sen. Dawson and I both understand when we put this together this was a pretty solid starting point, but it wasn’t going to be everything everybody wanted,” Shipley said. “I want to keep it moving forward but have those conversations about improvements. ... We’re certainly willing to listen and work on that.”
Haley Anderson, executive director of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, said she has been working with other legislators on similar bills that she expects to see introduced this session.
She said those bills likely will include legislation adding stricter enforcement of dog breeders that have inhumane conditions for the animals.
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