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Update on HB3386 – Aggravated Animal Cruelty.

I wanted to update each of you on HB3386 – Aggravated Animal Cruelty.
Our bill was in the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, March 23. There was testimony from two Farm Bureau Insurance Company members – and much of their testimony was the same message as always – laws okay as they are – everything is just fine, and there is no need to change anything. We are members of the greatest organization known to man and therefore, what’s the big deal. That is somewhat a paraphrase, but to view the whole event you can go to www. capitol.tn.gov click on videos, click on house videos , then on Agriculture.
The message I tried to convey to the members of the committee was to show the direct correlation between animal abuse and violence towards humans. We all know that animal abuse was the common denominator of many of the youngsters that committed the school shootings where both teachers and students were gunned down over the last decade. In domestic violence situations, many abused will not leave the abuser because they are concerned about the welfare of the family pet. Many who abuse animals often turn to abusing humans. Those of you who have been involved in the long struggle of fighting animal abuse know all the scenarios and can sight the examples much more readily than I can.
The bill was rolled until next week after much discussion from the members of the committee about how Farm Bureau Insurance Company had been given much bad press and how “no one could speak for them” but they had always been known for representing the TN farmer – you could almost hear America the Beautiful playing in the background. I really expected “Farm Bureau Charlie” to rise from the floor behind the committee wearing his FB hat with cell phone in hand trying to give sound advice to some foreign dignitary. You really had to be there! It seemed strange to me that the CAO from FB Insurance Company wasn’t invited to the podium to defend this great American company, but he only sat in the back of the room and watched, from what I was told. (I had my back to the audience because I was standing before the committee.)
HB3386 was rolled for one more week so that we could hear from the DAs because much of my reasoning for strengthening our animal abuse laws to a felony stemmed from the many examples of how DAs would not prosecute because it was only a misdemeanor. In talking to the DAs’ lobbyists on the hill (most every special interest but our regular citizens have one), they say it just isn’t so – they always prosecute even when it is only a misdemeanor. We all have stories to the contrary here.
Our bill was dealt a fatal blow yesterday when I received a letter from the Senate sponsor, Sen. Bill Ketron (R) Murfreesboro. He advised me that he was placing the Senate bill (companion to HB3386) in General Sub which is akin to the black hole for the remainder of the session. This, in essence, means the bill is dead – without a Senate sponsor our HB3386 can move no further in the process.
What I would like to ask each of you as you go about your daily lives of advocating for our animals is over the next year, please document each instance of animal abuse you encounter, and advise me so that we can put together real instances in real time. This way, when I return to Capitol Hill next January, I promise you I will again introduce a bill that will make aggravated animal abuse apply to all animals. We need these examples to strengthen our position that this law is very much needed.
This is very disappointing but not unexpected. In my years in public service, both in the Metro Council and the General Assembly, I have seen many worthwhile causes that have to be brought back year after year before there has been enough education on the importance of changing the law – this one is no different.
I have a heavy heart this morning as I report this to you, but my Dad always said, “If it is worth doing (and we all know this is), it is worth doing right, and there are very few things worth doing that are not difficult.”
I think each of you can feel very proud that we got our message out that Farm Bureau Insurance Company’s policies don’t represent everyone that is their member, and we have at least made a small dent in their armor by exposing them for what they are – the 800 lb. gorilla on Capitol Hill that so many of my colleagues fear more than any other special interest.
Please let’s stay in touch and start documenting each and every instance when we know that a stronger penalty could have made a difference in the final outcome. I feel very blessed to have either met or been able to communicate with each of you, and we aren’t finished yet.

Janis Sontany

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