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SB 46: Animal Cruelty Bill Advancing, Shows Grassroots Power… Sort Of

Last updated on 2014.02.17

Senate Bill 46, this year's animal cruelty bill, is cruising through the Legislature. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources passed it unanimously on Tuesday; the full Senate gave SB 46 the same favor on Thursday. False fears of evil out-state animal activists waging tyranny against our ranchers have disappeared. Senator Larry Rhoden threw some baloney forward about SB 46 permitting warrantless searches and seizures by non-governmental officials, but his two ayes (one in committee, one in the Senate) for SB 46 indicate he has taken the memo that animal authorities can already act without warrants thanks to legislation Rhoden himself backed in 2006.

I don't want to alienate good neighbors for changing their minds and supporting sensible legislation. But I can't help pointing out that last year, when South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together brought forward a more limited bill on making cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses a felony, state vet Dustin Oedekoven, SD Farm Bureau lobbyist Mike Held, SD Farmers Union lobbyist Mike Traxinger, Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones, and Gary Sanborn of the South Dakota Pet Breeders Association all testified in successful opposition to the large but lonely cadre of animal protection activist fighting for the bill. This year, Oedekoven, Held, Sanborn, the Farmers Union, and the Ag Department all testified in favor of a much tougher animal cruelty bill.

In a similar flip-flop, last year, Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources chair Shantel Krebs, Meade County rancher and Senator Larry Rhoden, and five of their colleagues voted against making cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses felony. This year, Secretary of State candidate Krebs, U.S. Senate candidate Rhoden, and their fellow 2013 naysayers all flipped and voted for a broader law than what the anti-cruelty activists wanted last year.

"Finding common ground was easier than we might have guessed," said state vet Oedekoven at the top of his testimony. That's a heartening statement. If we look past our stereotypes and assumptions and just talk to each other, we South Dakotans will find we all want a lot of the same practical policies.

We should celebrate the Senate's willingness to find common ground on this practical policy to protect our four-legged friends. We should be glad that our legislators will act to change our embarrassing position as the only state to punish animal abuse as a mere misdemeanor.

Unfortunately, we should also recognize the unpleasant subtext to the SB 46 story: regular folks have a tough time being heard in Pierre. Get some conscientious neighbors together to propose a good idea, and lobbyists and legislators will dismiss your proposal as a mere "constituent bill" (shouldn't every bill be a "constituent bill"?). They'll dismiss you as "greenies from out of state" (I predict Rep. Betty Olson will spoil unanimity in the House).

But hand the bill to state officials and big business, let them take the lead in promoting it, and suddenly, the Legislature thinks your idea is great. Our legislators are much more inclined to listen to the Daugaard administration and big industry lobbyists than to grassroots South Dakota activists.

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The only opponent testimony came from Anita Lee of Hereford, SD, whose argument against SB 46 consisted mostly of her concern that making animal cruelty a felony would have serious consequences. A felony conviction, after all, takes away one's right to vote, hold office, and carry a gun. In my own vein of old-fashioned conservative advocacy personal responsibility, I would suggest that SB 46 is all about making people realize that evil actions should have hard consequences. If you don't want to lose various rights, maybe you shouldn't run dog fights or skin cats alive.