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Animal cruelty bill has money questions

RICHMOND—A bill that would list convicted animal abusers on a public registry won approval from one Senate committee on Thursday.

But its patron must figure out how to do it more cheaply before the Senate’s holders of the purse strings will let the bill out of the Senate Finance committee.

The bill from Sen. Bill Stanley, R–20th District, would create an animal cruelty registry—a database of people who’ve been convicted of felony cruelty to animals, animal fighting, or of maiming, poisoning or killing an animal.

Stanley told the Senate Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee that 782 individuals in Virginia have been convicted of those crimes.

Keeping a list of their names and offenses, searchable by the public, would let animal adoption groups and individuals check a potential adopter to make sure they haven’t been convicted of abuse in the past.

“It will help as an informational tool to the public,” Stanley said.

He amended his proposal to take out people who’ve been convicted of failure to control dangerous dogs, since that isn’t actual abuse of the animal, he said.

This isn’t the first time an animal abuser registry has been proposed. In 2011, Del. Danny Marshall had a similar bill, and it led to a Virginia Crime Commission study on whether it was feasible.

The crime commission said such a registry would be expensive. At the time, 16 other states were considering animal cruelty registries.

The fiscal impact statement on Stanley’s bill predicts a costly program, as well—nearly $840,000 to set up the registry, and more than $280,000 a year to maintain it.

But Stanley said he thinks that’s pricier than what he had in mind.

“What they want is kind of ambitious for what should be a relatively easy thing to do,” Stanley said, noting that courthouses already have information on those convictions.

Sen. Dave Marsden, D–Fairfax, agreed, saying the registry could be “a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet on somebody’s website. I do not understand these kinds of numbers, either.”

In the end the committee agreed to report Stanley’s bill, but send it to the Finance committee for further work on the cost.

The Agriculture Committee also approved a bill from Sen. Chap Petersen, D–Fairfax, that would require pet dealers to reimburse buyers for vet bills if an animal proves to be diseased. It also would extend the number of days for a buyer to ask for such reimbursement if an animal was sick or died.

Petersen said the bill wouldn’t apply to rescue groups adopting out abandoned animals, or a neighbor selling a kitten. It is aimed, he said, at pet dealers, a term defined in the state code.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245


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