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Controversial Animal Cruelty Bill Approved By N.H. House

Courtesy, Human Society

The New Hampshire House on Wednesday approved an amended animal cruelty bill that backers say protects the due process rights of pet owners.

The bill, which passed the House on 222-111 vote, is substantially different than a Senate-backed bill, setting up a potential impasse on final legislation.

Lawmakers began work on the state’s cruelty statute in the wake of several high profile animal abuse cases, including one in Wolfeboro involving 84 Great Danes.

The legislation that cleared the Senate covers a range of issues, including how to define and regulate commercial kennels, what constitutes a “breeding female” dog, and how to cover the cost of an animal’s care while it is being held as evidence during what can be lengthy animal abuse trials.

On that issue, the Senate’s bill created a process by which a judge would set a bond, based on the defendant's ability to pay. If the pet owner didn’t pay the bond, the animals could be put up for adoption, even before a verdict is reached in the trial.

“This is in conflict with the Fourth Amendment. What happened to due process?” asked Representative Stephen Darrow of Grafton, while speaking on the House floor.

He urged colleagues to back an amendment drafted by the House Environment and Agriculture Committee that strips away the so-called “cost of care provision” and instead creates a study commission to look into the issue.

That amendment, which passed on a 205-124 vote, also exempted certain dog breeders from proposed new commercial kennel standards.

Opponents of the amendment argued that the changes water down the provisions included in Senate Bill 569.

“We make laws to establish boundaries and parameters for acceptable behavior. The Senate version is certainly not a cure-all, but will provide officials with some additional tools to combat animal cruelty,” said Representative Stephen Schmidt, who represents Wolfeboro.

The prime sponsor of SB 569, Senator Jeb Bradley, has criticized the amendment. It isn’t clear if the two chambers will try to work out their differences on how best to protect animals, or if a compromise is now out of reach. 

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