As the 2017-18 session of the General Assembly began last week with the swearing-in of members of the House of Representatives and Senate, much work needs to be done to address the many pressing needs of the commonwealth. They include property tax reform, pension reform and timely adoption of a fiscally responsible state budget.
While work on all of these issues takes place, the General Assembly should pick up where it left off in the previous session and comprehensively review and update Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.
Our community and, in fact, the nation were shocked and appalled by the treatment of a Boston terrier puppy now known as Libre. The captivating tale of his rescue and recovery stole the hearts of the public and sounded the alarm about the state’s animal cruelty laws.
Prior to Libre’s touching story, I learned about the despicable treatment of 10 puppies in my own community. That case resulted in 10 summary counts of animal cruelty, carrying a minimum fine of $50 per count. That amounted to a $500 fine for truly horrific treatment of defenseless puppies. Personally, I found this small fine offensive, considering the truly negligent and abusive behavior.
I vowed to fight to change this. In 2015, I introduced House Bill 953 in order to increase fines and have a punishment more befitting the crime.
As a child, I enjoyed the companionship of my Irish setter. I know that strong bonds can be built between pet and owner. For many, a pet is truly a four-legged, furry member of the family. Owning an animal is a responsibility that must be taken seriously, and those who would willfully neglect their responsibility should be treated accordingly.
Recently, some legislators were so moved by Libre’s story that they amended House Bill 860, Libre’s Law, to comprehensively update Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty statutes. While I applaud them and their work, I believe we must also take a holistic approach to updating our laws.
As far as enforcement, we must recognize that our municipal police departments often do not have the resources or the expertise to respond to animal cruelty complaints. Pennsylvania laws allow for the appointment of special law enforcement officials to address these complaints. They are known as Humane Society police officers.
After much discussion with Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, I introduced House Bill 2410 last session. It was aimed at ensuring that appointed Humane Society police officers are properly equipped to handle these cases. No one wants an animal cruelty complaint to go unanswered or unprosecuted when prosecution is warranted. So we must ensure that such cases are handled correctly, in accordance with our legal system.
My legislation would update the statutes to create a greater working relationship between these officers and the chief law enforcement officials in every county, the district attorneys.
The fact is, the minimum standards for appointing Humane Society police officers are low. There is a brief application process and little training before a county judge ultimately signs off on the officer’s appointment.
This bill aims to strengthen the relationship between those enforcing our animal cruelty laws and our district attorneys, who oversee law enforcement in the county. By allowing district attorneys’ input into the appointment process, we can be more sure that charges brought by these officers will be successful in court.
Both pieces of legislation, which I have introduced for this session of the General Assembly, have strong bipartisan support. I remain hopeful that the General Assembly will address this important issue soon.
The bills would ensure that our animal cruelty laws are updated with penalties that match the true nature of the crimes, and that perpetrators can be properly prosecuted.
It is time for the General Assembly to stand up and provide greater protection to those who cannot speak for themselves.
State Rep. Keith J. Greiner is a Republican from Upper Leacock Township.