Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate's Judiciary Committee will soon hear testimony about a proposed bill that would increase the penalties for those who are cruel to or kill a companion animal.
That bill, SB5, would update a 2016 legislation called Goddard's Law. That law made it a fifth-degree felony to seriously harm a companion animal — a pet or service animal that lives inside, but not livestock or wild animals.
Since the passage of Goddard's Law, sentencing reform has decreased the penalties for fifth-degree felonies — the lowest-level felony designation. So supporters of stricter sentencing for animal cruelty convictions want those crimes instead charged as third-degree felonies, for which judges have more discretion to order prison sentences.
Under the proposed law, animal cruelty could be punishable by up to 16 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The law would also create a new crime — a fourth-degree felony — for charging those who aid and abet animal cruelty.
The Cleveland-based Public Animal Welfare Society is among the groups backing the new bill. They say that under the current sentencing policies, those convicted of even severe cruelty to animals serve little if any time in prison and that cruelty toward animals is often a predictor of later violence toward people.
Proponents of harsher penalties point to recent examples of animal cruelty in Ohio, including a case in which an East Cleveland man set a dog in a cage on fire in September last year and another in which a man from the town of Warren received three months in jail for skinning a dog alive.
Senate President Larry Obhof and State Sen. Jay Hottinger, both Republicans, are co-sponsors of the bill, as is Democrat State Sen. Sean O'Brien.
“Numerous studies have found a relationship between animal abuse and violence against people,” O’Brien said in a news release last year. “We hope to make the penalties fit these extremely heinous crimes and, in the process, prevent violent crimes from being committed against people. Offenders need to receive more than a slap on the wrist for harming companion animals in Ohio.”
Not everyone is sold on the proposal, however.
“We’re at an environment at the Statehouse right now where we’re struggling to pass bills that offer greater protections for people,” Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Executive Director Lou Tobin told Cleveland.com back in October when the bill was introduced. “We were debating a felony strangulation law today and there were concerns that we were filling up the prisons... So I’m worried that bills like this aren’t proportional to the types of harm we really want to prevent in Ohio.”
The bill will get a hearing before the State Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 5 at 9:15 a.m.