HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The General Assembly is in session and a handful of bills have been proposed relating to animals and expanding animal cruelty laws in Virginia.
One causing a lot of attention would establish what the bill deems an Animal Cruelty Conviction List.
The passing of Senate Bill 337 would require names of people convicted of certain felony animal cruelty offenses on or after July 1, 2020 to be added to an online database, much like the current state sex offender registry.
Both would managed by Virginia State Police.
The bill was proposed by Sen. Richard Stuart, a Republican representing Senate District 28.
Around the Shenandoah Valley, people said they think this bill would be a great step to protect animals and let the public have easy access to this information, but others said that while it is a good start, there is much more action needed from law enforcement to make this list beneficial.
Huck Nawaz, executive director at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg SPCA ,said this list will only be useful if felony offenders are being prosecuted accordingly.
"That just goes back to local law enforcement efforts to support the better treatment of animals in our community and investigating those matters appropriately and passing them through the justice system to the prosecutor appropriately as well," Nawaz said.
The bill requires those convicted of any such offense to pay a fee of $50 per conviction to fund the maintenance of the list.
People around the valley said they agreed with the bill because they believe animal lives and the conviction of abusers need to be taken more seriously.
"I feel like so many people underestimate the lives of animals and their importance and animals are creatures just like us. I believe if you are cruel to them, it should be a conviction as well," Jenna Altaii, a supporter of the bill, said.
Some said this could also be helpful to local shelters before allowing people to adopt animals. They say it could also be useful for people needing pet sitters too.
“Especially if you are trying to entrust someone to take care of your pet for a week, you want to know that [your pet] will be safe there and I think that information should be made public,” Altaii said.
This bill requires state police to remove a person from the list after 15 years if there is no additional felony conviction of a relevant animal cruelty offense against them.
Nawaz said the Rockingham-Harriosnburg SPCA will always support any measures to have animal cruelty taken more seriously, but if the bill is passed, the public also needs to be aware of where and how to access the list.
Other bills proposed related to pets in the 2020 General Assembly session are:
• SB 272, which would establish limits on animal tethering for severe weather and require longer tethers.
• SB 304, which would require animal shelters to report their euthanasia rates and would bar any shelter with a euthanasia rate of greater than 50 percent from possessing euthanasia drugs.
• SB 337, which would establish an Animal Cruelty Conviction List, essentially creating a list maintained by Virginia State Police similar to the sex offender registry but for people convicted of felony animal cruelty charges.
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