Bill to make aggravated animal cruelty a domestic violence offense passes, heads to Gov. Herbert

Photo by hidako/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The bill making aggravated cruelty to animals with the intent to harass a cohabitant punishable as a domestic violence offense narrowly passed the House with a vote of 42-31 Wednesday. Southern Utah representatives were once again divided on the vote.

Domestic Violence Revisions, Senate Bill 45, was sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, and Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, and adds aggravated cruelty to animals as a domestic violence offense.

Read more: Utah Senate bill aims to make aggravated cruelty to animals a domestic violence offense

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 11 by a vote of 24-3-2, with Southern Utah Sen. Evan Vickers being one of the two absent or not voting; all other Southern Utah senators voted in favor of the bill. It then passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Friday and headed to the House floor for debate and a possible vote on Wednesday.

A similar bill sponsored by Christensen in 2018 made it to the House before being shot down.

Christensen said he decided to sponsor the bill last year after Ogden police came to him with a story about a man who killed his girlfriend’s dog in order to threaten her but could not be charged with domestic violence.

That is definitely domestic violence,” Ray said. “And the fact that we can’t charge for that needs to be fixed.

Those who oppose the bill, including Libertas Institute, argue that the original text of the bill was too broadly written, opening it up to abuse in the application.

However, previous to its passage in the Senate, the bill was amended during a Senate hearing, adding “with the intent to harass or threaten the other cohabitant.”

“This isn’t just cruelty. This is killing an animal or torturing it blatantly to get even, as the amendment says,” Christensen said during the Feb. 8 Senate hearing.

The amendment does not, however, address opponents’ concerns that animal cruelty can already be considered a domestic violence offense since animals are considered to be “tangible property” and current law already lists property destruction as cohabitant abuse, according to a Libertas Institute article.

The view down south

Southern Utah representatives were split on the vote last year. Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, who voted “yes” for the bill last year, told St. George News on Tuesday that he was still undecided, wanting to wait until after debate to come to a conclusion.

“I would have had some concerns with it. I like the amendment. … I think that helps it, but I’m looking forward to hearing the debate,” Snow said. “I think connecting the amendment to include ‘or with the intent to harass or threaten the other cohabitant’ helps.”

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, voted against the bill last year because he felt it was too broadly written and appeared to make animal cruelty equal to human domestic violence. But with the addition of the Feb. 8 amendment, he said previous to the bill making it to the House that he was more likely to support the bill this year.

“Last year it was overly broad, but now it’s a lot more focused. … So I’m much more inclined to vote yes now,” Seegmiller told St. George News.

“This year the law makes great sense because it very specifically applies to animal cruelty that is done ‘with the intent to harass or threaten’ in a domestic violence situation. So now it makes sense to put this provision in the domestic violence offense part of the law.”

Following debate on Wednesday, Snow ultimately voted against the bill, along with Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Phil Lyman, Merrill Nelson and Rex Shipp.  Reps. Seegmiller and Brad Last voted in favor of it.

Updated Feb. 22, 9:45 a.m. to include passage of Utah House of Representatives.

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues

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