To pass or not to pass a Texas animal abuse registry

Hoarded dog sheltered at the Humane Society in Austin

An animal abuse registry might be tough for Texas lawmakers to create in a legislative session sure to be heavily focused on the state’s estimated $25 billion deficit. The online database would be similar to the state’s sex offender registry, which holds information on 65,000 criminals at a cost of $1.4 million.

Other states – Rhode Island, Louisiana, and California – have introduced similar bills to create an animal abuse registry unsuccessfully in the past. The idea is to keep animal abusers from re-offending, hurting or killing defenseless animals.

California’s most recent senate majority leader, Dean Florez, introduced that state’s bill (SB1277). The action would have put criminals’ address, places of employment, and photographs online. Not only would law enforcement and the public have had access to the database, shelters and breeders would have known which people to turn away.

Some critics said the registry would have violated criminals’ civil liberties by creating a social stigma even after they had served their sentence. Ideas to fund the registry also met opposition – from a two-to-three-cent-per-pound tax on pet food or forcing felons to pay a $50 fine. It was unsure if those funding methods would be enough to operate the program.

Abandoned dog at Town Lake Animal Center

However, in Suffolk County, New York, lawmakers approved an animal abuse registry this fall. It’s the same concept, only the convicted abusers would have to pay a yearly fee of $50 to maintain the database. Taxpayers don’t pay for the service, and the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals volunteered to maintain the program. Abusers who do not obey the new law will have to pay $1000 or serve one year in jail.

There is also pending legislation in New York to require pet stores, breeders and animal shelters to check the registry before someone buys an animal. Now, lawmakers there hope their efforts will inspire other places to implement such a system.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, and Rep. Sefronia Thompson, D-Houston, are behind the Texas push. The state already revamped its animal cruelty laws in 2007, but this would be another major step in protecting animals. The official bill filing is still upcoming.

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