State proposes tightening animal law

WINNSBORO – Proposed revisions to state animal cruelty laws would shift cost of care of seized animals onto defendants charged in abuse or negligence cases.

S.C. House Bill 3682 passed third reading on March 29. The Senate held first reading March 30, and referred the legislation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, according to legislative records.

An agenda states the committee planned to discuss the bill April 27, but video of the proceeding was not published to the South Carolina Legislature web site as of press time. The committee did not discuss the bill at its March 30 meeting, according to a recording.

About two months remain in the current legislative session before the General Assembly adjourns this summer, casting a cloud of uncertainty on the bill’s future.

Kathy Faulk, president of the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society, recently urged Fairfield County Council members to lobby Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls, to help expedite the bill.

Fanning, who sits on the committee, could not be reached for comment.

“This cost of care legislation will address the issues of animals being held on the taxpayer’s dime while cases are prosecuted in court,” Faulk said at the April 24 council meeting. “It will put the cost of caring for seized animals back on the defendants who created the situation.”

H.3682 unanimously passed by a 110-0 vote in the House.

Seven Republican senators are listed as cosponsors of a companion Senate bill, according to legislative records.

If passed, the law would allow law enforcement to petition a court to require owners to make scheduled payments while the case is being litigated. A judge would decide if the animal hold is warranted and also to determine any special animal care needs.

Owners who fail to pay must surrender the animal. Conversely, if the owner is found not guilty, owner payments are refunded, according to the bill.

Faulk said the Fairfield County shelter currently has 18 dogs being held by court order, which she said consumes valuable shelter space and costs taxpayers while those cases are waiting to be prosecuted.

“If you haven’t already done so, please contact [Fanning], and thank him for voicing his support and ask him to help move [the bill],” Faulk said. “We need his help to get these bills through the Senate that will make a huge impact on our shelters.”

A Fiscal Impact Study determined the bill wouldn’t increase costs for state agencies, such as the S.C. Judicial Department and Commission on Indigent Defense.

In response to a survey, Dorchester County responded that it didn’t think it would incur any costs provided the court orders a defendant who’s not indigent to cover the cost of caring for seized animals.

Otherwise, the county would incur unspecified costs.

“If no owner is located, or if the owner is indigent, the county may have to surrender the animal to a county shelter and would thus incur costs associated with care and potential euthanasia of the animal,” documents state.

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