Idaho is just one of three states without felony penalties for severe cases of animal cruelty — much to the chagrin of many animal lovers. You may have a chance to change that at the ballot box next year.

Animal welfare groups across the state are joining forces to gather more than 47,000 signatures by April to get an initiative on the ballot that would make animal cruelty in Idaho a felony. Here’s what the proposed law would do:

  • Define animal torture
  • Increase the misdemeanor fine for first offense from the current $100 to $400.
  • Increase the misdemeanor fine for second offense from the current $200 to $600.
  • Make a third animal-cruelty conviction in a 15-year period a felony punishable by six months to three years in prison and up to a $9,000 fine.

The Idaho Legislature has taken up this issue before, but lawmakers haven’t seen the need to change the law. In the 2010 legislative session, the Senate voted 34-1 for a bill proposed by Mountain Home Republican Sen. Tim Corder that would make cockfighting a felony and increase misdemeanor fines for animal cruelty to up to a year in jail and a $9,000 fine.

But the bill was shoved in the proverbial drawer in the House, in effect killing it.

When asked why legislation with such broad support in the Senate wasn’t even given consideration by the House, Corder said the scuttlebutt he heard was that some lawmakers wanted to wait until the pressure from animal rights supporters was so overwhelming that the Legislature had no choice but to act. If lawmakers passed a law in a pre-emptive manner now, those groups would say the legislation was too weak and insist that it be reworked — that was the rationale given for killing the 2010 bill.

Animal cruelty is a serious issue. In addition to the hell it unleashes on animals, it poses a safety risk to humans because people who do horrible things to animals are documented to be more likely to do them to humans later on. Animal abusers should be punished harshly, and that’s really not happening now.

It’s reasonable to assume that if this issue makes it on the 2012 ballot and voters read the proposal, they’ll approve it. Most people love animals. And since the Legislature hasn’t felt the need to address this issue, power to the people if they can do it themselves.

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