In just two short weeks since the summer recess ended, a raft of animal welfare bills is either moving through the Pennsylvania General Assembly or getting teed up for introduction.
In the state House this week, lawmakers unanimously approved Bucks County Rep. Kathy Watson’s bill to require all dog law fines collected return to the dog law restricted account.
It sounds obvious right?
But the state’s judicial system has been taking a huge cut for its computer upgrades for two decades and it’s not just a small percentage of the fines, it’s every fine dollar taken in once the agency has collected $70,000.
That didn’t amount to much when the law redirecting the money to judiciary was passed because there was little enforcement and therefore fewer fines.
Today revenue from fines totals several hundred thousand dollars a year and the cash-strapped dog law enforcement office has had to eliminate overtime, delay replacing aging equipment like trucks for wardens and reduce its full time veterinarian to per diem status.
In fact between 1998 and 2011 the dog law fines and penalties accumulated over $3.5 million. Almost $3 million was forfeited to the judicial computer account (an average of $226,000 a year). The total revenue retained by the Dog Law Restricted Account during those same years was only 26% of the total monies collected.
The Watson bill (HB 913) now moves to the Senate.
In the Senate, dog defenders Sen. Andy Dinniman (D Chester) and Sen. Rich Alloway (R Franklin) are working on a package of bills to be unveiled at Oct.22 with a public dog rally at the Capitol. (For more information on the rally see Dinniman or Alloway’s websites).
But several bills are moving ahead of the event, among them one that would increase the penalties for someone who is the subject of a restraining order who harms a pet.
“Any number of studies have shown that in situations where there is one spouse with a domestic abuse order that they get even with their spouse through harming or killing a pet,” said Dinniman, noting a number of other states already have such animal protection laws on the books led by Maine.
Dinniman’s bill Increases the penalty for such attacks from $1,000 – $10,000 fine to a $2,000 to $15,000 fine and two years in prison.
Other bills on Dinniman and Alloway’s platter include: banning 24/7 dog tethering and closing the loophole that allows kennel owners to transfer ownership to a family member, and moving the office of dog law enforcement to the state health department.
Also expected to be introduced, a bill cracking down on fake rescues that are dealing puppy mill dogs or importing sick dogs from the South and selling them at high prices. Dinniman also has a bill inspired by the shooting deaths of two Bernese Mountain dogs in his district that is aimed at making it harder for individuals to shoot dogs that are on their property without cause.
Also this week, a House bill sponsored by Montgomery County Rep. Todd Stephens that would make the possession of animal fighting paraphernalia a crime was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Keep updated on pending legislation affecting animals in Pennsylvania.
Amy Worden is a politics and government reporter for the Inquirer. In that capacity she has explored a range of animal protection issues from dog kennel law improvements and banning horse slaughter to the comeback of peregrine falcons and pigeon hunts. From hamsters to horses, animals have always been part of her life