Every year, an estimated 1 million animals are reported domestically abused or killed in the United States, causing concern among lawmakers in various states including Florida. During Florida’s 2021 legislative session, six animal welfare bills made their way into the Capitol with varying success. The proposal of these bills — as well as past state action — signaled that protecting and enforcing the rights of pets has become an increasing priority in Florida.
Currently in Florida, cruelty is defined as an act that “unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal, or causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner.” Violations of this statute can result in a person being guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor.
Florida’s long history of standing against anti-cruelty began in 1889, where the state passed its first anti-cruelty statute, which broadly defines an “animal” as “every living dumb creature.” When challenged for vagueness, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the anti-cruelty statute.
According to The Humane Society of the United States, 88% of families investigated for child abuse also partook in pet abuse. Another study conducted by the organization found that 71% of domestic violence victims stated that their offender abused pets. Every bill has been carefully reviewed for the purpose of addressing the issues of animal abuse, whether it be domestically or generally.
These statistics have proven startling to many Floridians, as pet abuse has been shown to correlate with human violence. In an attempt to better animal welfare in the state, six bills — SB-216, SB-1138, SB-650, SB-776, SB-1122 and SB-1316 — were introduced in the Senate that would greatly affect the treatment of animals.
Introduced by Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, SB-776 sought to expand Florida’s anti-racketeering law by including wildlife trafficking as a violating action. The trafficking of wildlife extended to land, freshwater and marine animals within the bill.
The bill was filed on Jan. 25 and passed through the Senate Criminal Justice, Environment and Natural Resources, and Rules Committees before making its way to the main Senate floor. With a unanimous 116-0 vote, SB-776 passed on April 27, making wildlife trafficking punishable under anti-racketeering law.
Introduced by Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, SB-216 — otherwise known as Allie’s Law —required a veterinarian to report any suspicion of animal abuse to law enforcement or animal control facilities. Workers in animal shelters were also required to report on the speculation of abuse to a licensed veterinarian.
SB-216’s House companion bill, HB-47, dealt with the authorizing of the judicial system to create domestic violence injunctions in regard to animals. Both bills were created to work in tandem to create a system for catching domestic abuse early and strengthening animal welfare. SB-216 was introduced on March 2 and died in the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 30.
Along with the previously mentioned “Allie’s Law,” SB-1122 was introduced on March 2 by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary. SB-1122 required proper space, ventilation and protection from rain, heat or cold – as a minimum standard that owners of animals would have to meet. The standard set by SB-1122 would have created a definition for “adequate shelter,” which would prevent an animal from being kept in an inhumane environment. The bill died in the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 30.
Introduced by Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, SB-650 sought to require that dogs and cats left tethered outdoors must be supervised at all times. The bill also included provisions that dogs and cats cannot be tethered outdoors during instances of severe weather. Taddeo specified in her bill that SB-650 would not apply to hunting dogs.
Penalization included a written warning on the first offense, a fine of $250 on the second offense, and a fine of $500 on the third offense. The bill passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee — unlike SB-216 and SB-1122 – but died in the Community Affairs Committee.
SB-1138 — another bill proposed by Brodeur — would have prohibited the sale of dogs and cats from Florida pet stores as a way to decrease the amount of animals coming from breeding facilities known as ‘puppy mills.’ The bill was also created to incentivize potential pet owners to seek out new companions at local pet shelters.
The bill died in the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 30.
SB-1316 was another bill proposed by Pizzo on March 2, which sought to provide a legal advocate for the interest of pets in specific court hearings. This legal advocate would be used at the discretion of the court.
The Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar would also be required to preserve a list of certified attorneys who are eligible to hold the position as an animal advocate. The bill died in the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.
Although many animal welfare bills did not make their way successfully through the Florida Senate, animal advocates remain hopeful for the next legislative session.
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