During the same week that Debe Bell was convicted on 35 counts of animal cruelty (see the photo at right), a bill to establish a registry for animal abusers failed to get out of the agriculture committee.
Why? Here's the take of Representative Jeanne Labuda, the measure's sponsor.
Labuda, who notes that the Bell case was mentioned at the hearing, wasn't surprised by the 9-3 vote against the proposal "because it went before the ag committee, and I know the ag community was opposed to it, even though it exempted agriculture in the same way that our animal cruelty laws do."
But that wasn't the only objection, Labuda admits. "A big concern I hadn't anticipated was the idea that once you're on the computer, you're always on the computer." Individuals named on the registry would no longer have been listed after five years if they didn't rack up any other offenses, but opponents still feared "that these people would be hounded for the rest of their lives."
Supporters who appeared at the committee hearing had a different point of view, Labuda notes. "They spoke about the need to have a resource for pet shelters, humane societies and people who were putting pets up for adoption, so that you could be sure you're not giving your puppy to someone who abused animals." She adds that "there's a lot of research showing that people who abuse animals go on to abuse children, spouses and others. So if we could make a registry and bring attention to these folks and stop their behavior before it jumps to humans, that would be good."
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Indeed, an amendment to the bill would have required the registry to communicate with the Department of Human Services' child-welfare department. And because a nonprofit agency would have taken over administrative functions, the registry "wouldn't have cost the state anything," Labuda maintains.
Such registries are a fairly new notion -- so much so that Labuda concedes there's little data at this point to prove their effectiveness. Nonetheless, she hasn't given up on the idea, and is thinking about introducing it again next year (if she's reelected, she hastens to add). But that doesn't mean she's willing to gut the bill to placate opponents. "Maybe abusers' names should stay on the list forever," she says. "I'll have to do some research into that."
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