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(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel has released legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Matthew W. Milam and Nelson T. Albano (both D-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland) that would protect animals against abuse by expanding the types of animal cruelty offenses punishable by law in New Jersey.

“Abused animals are unable speak up for themselves and deserve our protection,” said Albano. “This bill helps protect animals by holding animal abusers accountable and enhancing the penalties for those who choose to defy the law in such a cowardly way.”

“Animals are unable to report crimes against them, so it is important that we have measures in place to help deter abuse against defenseless animals,” said Milam. “This bill would help prevent animal abuse by adding to the types of animal cruelty offenses punishable by law and augmenting penalties.”

The bill (A-2039) revises current animal cruelty offenses concerning abuse, abandonment, neglect, and improper euthanizing of animals in chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes, by creating a new framework of existing and new offenses designated as animal abuse, aggravated animal abuse, animal neglect, aggravated animal neglect, and extreme animal neglect. It also revises the offenses of animal abandonment and improper euthanizing of an animal.

The bill increases criminal penalties for a number of existing offenses and establishes penalties for new offenses. In addition, the bill establishes minimum fines for criminal offenses, and additional criminal penalties, including community service, mental health counseling, restitution, confiscation of animals, and prohibitions on future ownership of animals

The bill also revises current civil penalty provisions to reflect these revisions to criminal animal cruelty offenses, and establishes that neither the properly conducted practice of veterinary medicine by a licensed veterinarian, nor the killing of animals other than domesticated animals that are causing damage to agricultural or horticultural crops and property, would be considered animal cruelty.

Lastly, the bill, as amended, repeals sections of law that are superseded by, but provided for under, the bill. R.S.4:22-17 is the current provision of law establishing animal cruelty offenses and penalties for abusing and neglecting animals. R.S.4:22-19 establishes animal cruelty offenses connected with impoundment and improper euthanizing of animals. Section 2 of P.L.1988, c.160 (C.4:22-19.4) provides a penalty for euthanasia violations. R.S.4:22-20 establishes animal cruelty offenses and penalties connected with abandoning an animal. R.S.4:22-23 establishes animal cruelty offenses and penalties connected with shooting at birds and using them as targets, other than when hunting. The bill updates and provides for all of these offenses and penalties.

The bill was released last week by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.