Talks for anti-animal cruelty bill renew as poll reveals public support for it in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The start of the 2020 legislative session on Monday in Des Moines brought renewed talks of a bill that would make animal torture a felony in Iowa.

House File 737 would make animal torture an automatic felony in Iowa. (Mary Green/KCRG)

Iowa is currently one of just two states in the country where it isn’t a felony, but House File 737 would change that. The bill was introduced in 2019 and passed the Iowa House of Representatives, 96-0. When it moved to the Senate, the Judiciary Committee recommended its passage.

In the end, the bill was placed on the Senate’s “Unfinished Business Calendar” before the 2019 legislative session closed.

“It’s ready to be picked up by the Senate as is right now,” Preston Moore, the Iowa state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said.

As long as the bill isn’t amended, all it needs is approval in the Senate and the signature of Governor Kim Reynolds to become a law.

The bill does more than making animal torture an automatic felony. It also removes owner exemptions in the animal abuse statute.

“Right now, our law says if you own a dog or a cat or a pet, you can kick it. You can hit it. You can’t be charged with animal abuse,” Moore said.

A third part of the bill updates Iowa’s animal neglect code.

“We see animals that freeze to death outside almost every year, and because in most of those cases, there’s even a tiny, little piece of shelter, those people are not charged with animal neglect in those cases,” Moore said, adding that HF 737 would also allow judges to prescribe mental health evaluations “in some of these more egregious cases.”

The bill only applies to pets and animals that are not livestock or certain wild animals.

Senator Dan Zumbach of Delaware County, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said one of his priorities this year is getting a bill like HF 737 passed.

“Whether it’s companion animals or livestock, we want to make sure that we have laws in place to where what happens in those arenas when someone fails to do things right, there’s an appropriate consequence,” he said.

Zumbach doesn’t necessarily know if HF 737, as it’s written now, will be the final product, but he wants to pass a bill that the Senate agrees on, which he said can be a “very, very touchy road.”

“We don’t want anybody abusing any animals in any arena, and yet, we’ve got to make sure the consequences match what the abuse is,” Zumbach said. “So with that comes a very, very rocky and a tough jigsaw puzzle to put together.”

Moore is hopeful that Zumbach and his fellow senators will push the bill forward over the next 100 days before the 2020 legislative session ends.

“I believe that Iowa’s lawmakers have heard loudly and consistently over the last nine months from Iowans, and I think that they will listen and pass this bill,” Moore said.

In November, President Donald Trump signed the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act” into law, which prohibits extreme acts of cruelty when they occur in interstate commerce or on federal property and makes these crimes a federal felony.

Moore said this law doesn’t address the vast majority of animal cruelty crimes in Iowa, so HF 737 is still needed.

A recent survey also showed there is public support of a bill like HF 737 in Iowa. The poll, completed last month and paid for by the Stray Dog Institute, a Kansas City, Kansas-based nonprofit organization that seeks to protect animals, surveyed 840 Iowans.

When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that Iowa should treat domestic animal torture as a felony charge?” 69% of respondents said yes, and when they were asked, “Do you think pet owners should face consequences when they abuse their pets?” another 84% of them said they should face consequences.