Animal welfare bills introduced in Mississippi Legislature

Published 12:47 am Tuesday, January 9, 2018


NATCHEZ — Multiple bills concerning animal welfare — including one which originated in Natchez — are headed to committee in the state capitol.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said he filed the official language for his dogfighting bill last week and is currently waiting for the document to be assigned a bill number.

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The legislation, which would increase penalties for persons convicted of dogfighting, received 20 co-sponsors in the Mississippi Senate, Dearing said.

After filing the bill last week, Dearing said he and co-sponsor Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, sought last minute co-sponsors for the proposal.

“We went down the hall and talked to people,” Dearing said. “That number (of cosponsors) could grow.”

The high number of co-sponsors, Dearing said, makes him optimistic about the chance of the bill becoming a law.

The proposed bill would fine dogfighters with a $1,000 fine per-dog and a one-year prison sentence per dog up to 25 years and increases penalties for attendees of dogfights to a minimum $1,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

The bill also includes provisions for an individual convicted of dogfighting to pay restitution for the care and housing of the animals in the time between confiscation and conviction.

Once the bill receives a number, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will assign the bill to a committee.

Dearing said he hopes Reeves sends the bill to the Agricultural Committee, of which Hudson is the chair.

Hudson became a co-sponsor of the dogfighting bill early on and has aided garnering support for the tougher penalties, Dearing said.

If passed by the committee, the bill would head to the senate floor for discussion.

Two other bills concerning animal welfare are in the proposal process, both of which would apply to animal cruelty in general, not the specific issue of dogfighting.

Dearing said whether or not these animal cruelty proposals would pass remains to be seen.

“So far, animal cruelty bills haven’t fared well in the senate,” Dearing said.

Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, has proposed for the fourth time her bill to make aggravated abuse of dogs and cats a first-time felony.

Hill was not available for comment Monday.

Representative Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, will also propose a felony-level charge for dog and cat abuse.

Snowden said his proposed bill would differentiate between simple and aggravated animal cruelty, with simple animal cruelty being a misdemeanor and aggravated animal cruelty being a felony.

“It’s important that people know this is just about dogs and cats,” Snowden said.

In past versions of this bill, Snowden said he has faced opposition from people who believe the protection of pets is a “slippery slope” to stiffer regulations on the treatment of livestock.

“We’re not trying to interfere with people’s livelihoods,” Snowden said. “There have just been heinous acts committed against animals with nothing but a misdemeanor charge. We think we have a bill that is reasonable.”

Snowden said the bill was assigned to the agricultural committee late last week.

With new clauses that specify the bill only pertains to dogs and cats, Snowden said he is more confident that the bill has a chance of passing.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “We’ve faced opposition before from well-meaning individuals. I just disagree with them.”