Senate Bill 46 would make animal cruelty a felony in South Dakota. We are the only state that has not done so. Decent South Dakotans recognize there's no reason to protect sadistic animal abusers from stiffer legal punishment. The ag industry admits Senate Bill 46 is good legislation.
But U.S. Senate candidate Larry Rhoden and GOP blogger Pat Powers are sad to be deprived of last year's false rhetoric against making animal cruelty a felony that they are now resorting to gross misrepresentation of the proposal. State Senator Rhoden told a Belle Fourche crackerbarrel that Senate Bill 46 opens the door for animal activists to invade your property:
Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said the current misdemeanor crime of animal cruelty has mostly been adapted into the current bill — and that concerns him.
He said it appears it would allow animal rights groups to enter private property and seize animals without a warrant.
...Rhoden said he wouldn't support the bill unless the authority would only be for law enforcement agencies [Milo Dailey, "Legislators Concerned about Animal Cruelty Felony Bill," Rapid City Journal, 2014.01.25].
Powers blows that statement up into an outright lie, claiming that legislators are "concerned about warrantless searches being proposed by animal groups."
Stop. Right. There.
Let's be clear. Senate Bill 46 is not being proposed exclusively by animal groups. It is being proposed by the Animal Industry Board, a state agency headed by state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven.. Senate Bill is supported by the South Dakota Farm Bureau, the South Dakota Stock Growers, the South Dakota Pork Producers, and South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together.
Now let's be even clearer: Senate Bill 46 adds no warrantless searches to state law. Read the bill. SB 46 does not change the standards required for search and seizure. It does not authorize anyone to conduct a search who is not currently authorized to conduct a search.
State law already allows certain warrantless searches and seizures. South Dakota Codified Law 40-1-5 already offers this exception for officers impounding abused animals:
...a warrant or court order is not necessary if the animal is severely injured, severely diseased, or suffering and any delay in impounding the animal would continue to cause the animal extreme suffering or if other exigent circumstances exist.
SDCL 40-2-1 already authorizes counties to authorize animal welfare groups to exercise the legal authority created under our animal cruelty chapter. So yes, right now, under South Dakota law, an animal rights group, if authorized by your county government, can send people onto your property to rescue an animal suffering obvious cruelty. Animal groups aren't asking for that authority; counties already have it.
And Senator Larry Rhoden knows these laws, because he voted for the language in them, including the new language that authorized the warrantless impoundment of suffering animals, when he voted for 2006 House Bill 1181 along with all but three other members of the South Dakota House.
One more flip-flop of campaign-trail convenience for Senator Rhoden; one more lie for Mr. Powers. Let's not allow either the flip-flops or the lies distract us from taking animal cruelty seriously and passing Senate Bill 46.