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Measures Would Criminalize Intentionally Harming Service Animals; Upgrade Penalties for Cruelty Through Neglect

(TRENTON) — A two-bill package aimed at criminalizing abusing animals that serve the disabled and in law enforcement and strengthening penalties for animal abuse through neglect was released Monday from the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“Overwhelming evidence indicates that people who cruelly abuse or torture animals are very likely to act violently towards humans,” said Assemblyman Nelson T. Albano (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland), a prime sponsor of both bills. “I see this legislation as a compassionate step forward in our treatment of animals who offer us not only their friendship and companionship, but in many cases, help drive our agricultural economy.”

“The harsh reality is that people who abuse animals also often engage in other crimes associated with violence, and will often continue to engage in violent offenses even after serving jail time,” said Assemblyman Matthew W. Milam (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland), who is a prime sponsor of both measures. “Animal abuse, quite simply, cannot be taken lightly.”

The first bill (A-832), sponsored by Albano, Milam and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, would make it a crime to kill, maim or otherwise abuse or interfere with a service dog or other animal that aids the disabled. An individual convicted of purposely killing a service animal would be guilty of a second degree crime; an individual convicted of purposely maiming a service animal would be guilty of a third degree crime; and an individual purposely interfering with a service animal during the performance of its duties would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

Additionally, the bill also would increase the penalties for committing crimes against law enforcement animals. Killing a law enforcement animal would be upgraded to a crime of the second degree; maiming or otherwise harming a law enforcement animal would be upgraded to a crime of the third degree.

A second degree crime carries up to $150,000 in fines and 10 years in prison; a third degree crime carries up to $15,000 in fines and five years in prison; a disorderly persons offense carries up to $1,000 in fines and six months in prison.

“Service animals in particular deserve the utmost protection under the law,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Whether it be helping the disabled or aiding law enforcement, these animals are hard at work to make our lives better. It only makes sense that harming or killing these highly trained animals carry severe penalties.”

The second measure (A-1083), sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Milam, Albano and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, would amend the state’s current animal cruelty laws to clarify that failure to provide an animal minimum care — proper access to food, water, shelter, and veterinary services — would be considered a criminal and civil offense.

“Failing to provide minimum care to an animal should unquestionably be a criminal offense,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer). “It’s certainly reasonable to ask people to provide enough food, drinking water, shelter, needed veterinary care and exercise for animals under their care.”

“Let’s be clear — not providing an animal with the bare minimum of care needed to ensure it does not die of starvation, thirst, exposure or sickness is a crime,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “We’re just making sure the law agrees with what common decency dictates.”

Both measures were unanimously released from committee. The bills now head to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post them for a floor vote.