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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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Update on HB 3386: Make it a felony to starve horses & livestock

Re: HB-3386 – Aggravated Animal Cruelty

This bill will add all animals to our current Aggravated Animal Cruelty statute. It will make the withholding of food and water from ANY animal to the point of death or near death a felony. Currently, if you starve a companion animal it is a felony, if you starve “livestock” it is a misdemeanor. It makes no sense to have different penalties for the same despicable action. How can we continue to say it is far worse to starve a dog than to starve a horse?

The bill also defines aggravated animal cruelty as an act committed by a person who without justifiable purpose, kills or intentionally causes serious bodily injury to any animal in a depraved or sadistic manner. The illustration that I have given before is the man who got mad at his wife, tied her horse to the back of his truck and dragged it until it was almost dead, then finished it off by stabbing it with a pitchfork.

I think you will agree that was depraved and sadistic. When she went to the DA in her county to ask for him to be prosecuted, she was met with the response that he had too many other cases to busy himself with this one because it was only a misdemeanor.

We need stiffer penalties to encourage DA’s to prosecute. They are more likely to prosecute a felony than a misdemeanor.

Our bill was in House Agriculture Committee last Tuesday morning. Many of you know that our biggest opponent is Farm Bureau Insurance Company. The Farm Bureau Insurance Agents filled all the seats in the committee room and those of you who took time from your busy schedules to come to the Capitol to make your support for the bill known, were left standing in the aisles. I really appreciate the way you hung in there for over an hour before our bill was heard.

We had three great speakers – Sgt. Mike McLerran – Sumner County Animal Control who made great points – he gets several complaints per month about abused horses. It is not the legitimate TN farmer where he has to remove starving horses, it is the horse trader, the broker, the killer that buys horses cheap and refuses to invest any money in their care even FOOD, knowing that many of them will not make it and transporting those who do live inhumanely to Mexico to be slaughtered inhumanely.

He was asked by Rep. Eddie Bass (D) Giles County, if in a tight budget year, should the legislature be focused on protecting children or animals. Sgt McLerran very eloquently answered that it was often the people who abuse animals that also abuse children.

Our second speaker was Ron Smith, CEO, Electric Service Credit Union, a horse and burro owner and Farm Bureau member. Ron stressed more than once that increasing the penalty would make someone think twice if they knew they were going to be charged with felony rather than having their hand slapped with a misdemeanor.

Ron was asked by Deputy Speaker Steve McDanel (R) Parkers Crossroads, if he supported horse slaughter to which Ron answered no. Farm Bureau Insurance Company is for horse slaughter in Tennessee – won’t that make for a great economic and community development tool for recruiting new business to Tennessee. Come to Tennessee, home of horse slaughter.

Third, was Mary Hord, cattle producer and equine rescue – also a Farm Bureau member. She advocated for increased penalties and was quite emphatic that she was ashamed to be a Farm Bureau member and that they did not speak for her as they claimed to speak for all 650,000 members of Farm Bureau Insurance Company.

Our bill was deferred to Tuesday, March 23rd, at 9:00 a.m. I expect there to be some discussion this week since the cameras probably will not be present again. Please join me if you can make it, if not, please make calls again to members of the Ag Committee.

I have been invited to appear on Morning Line – Channel 5+ on Monday morning, March 22nd, from 8-9 a.m. along with someone from Farm Bureau Insurance Company. Please call in if you can at 737-7587. As they stacked the committee room last week, we probably can expect those opposed to increasing penalties to monopolize the phone lines on Monday.

I will leave you with this thought – it is a felony to sell glue for unlawful purpose, it is a felony to write worthless checks ($501-$999) and it is a felony to file a false or fraudulent insurance claim, however, it is a misdemeanor to commit aggravated animal cruelty which includes starving livestock or dragging a horse to its death.

Again, thanks for your continued support.

The members of the House Agriculture Committee are:

Committee Officers
Stratton Bone, Chair (615) 741-7086 rep.stratton.bone@capitol.tn.gov
Dale Ford, V. Chair (615) 741-1717
Willie Butch Borchert, Sect’y (615) 741-6804
Eddie Bass (615) 741- 1864
Chad Faulkner (615) 741-3335
Curtis Halford (615) 741-7478
John Litz (615) 741- 6877
Steve McDaniel (615) 741-0750
Frank Niceley (615) 741-4419
Johnny Shaw (615) 741-4538
Terri Lynn Weaver (615) 741-2192
John Mark Windle (615) 741-1260


Janis Sontany

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