December 17th, 2012
New Category for “Ag Gag” Laws, Idaho Most-Improved
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) announces the publication of the 2012 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report, ALDF’s seventh annual report that comprehensively surveys animal protection laws of all U.S. states and territories. The longest-running and most authoritative report of its kind, the Rankings Report assesses the strength of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws by examining over 4,000 pages of statutes. Each jurisdiction receives a raw score based on fifteen different categories of animal protection; the Report then ranks all 56 jurisdictions by comparing their raw scores. The Report also highlights the top, middle and bottom tiers of jurisdictions and notes the “Best Five” and “Worst Five” states overall.
The “Best Five” states remained the same in 2012, for the fifth consecutive year, with Illinois holding strong as the top jurisdiction for animal protection. California rose from fifth to third position, in part, by strengthening its forfeiture and seizure laws this year, ensuring that fewer animals unnecessarily languish in cages during the disposition of criminal cases—at shelter expense—and do not return to their abusers. Idaho was the most-improved jurisdiction in 2012, jumping eight places in rank and elevating out of the notorious “Worst Five” tier, in part, by enacting its first felony provisions for cruelty, neglect, abandonment and cockfighting. (Mississippi received a similar boost in rank in 2011 for passing its first felony laws.) North and South Dakota now remain the only jurisdictions without felony penalties for animal abusers, contributing to these states’ longtime positions in the “Worst Five” tier. For the sixth year in a row, Kentucky ranked the weakest state for animal protection.
The Rankings Report added a brand-new category of assessment this year to account for the passage of “ag gag” laws. These laws—propagated by the corporate agriculture lobby—aim to conceal animal abuse, food safety risks, and illegal working conditions from consumers by making it illegal to video record or photograph at agricultural facilities. Iowa and Utah both enacted “ag gag” legislation in 2012, contributing to their respective drops in rank this year. They join Kansas, Montana and North Dakota for a total of five states that now have “ag gag” laws on the books.
“‘Ag gag’ legislation is a huge step backwards for animals, attempting to stifle whistleblowers of animal abuse,” says Lora Dunn, Rankings Report Editor. “While many jurisdictions strengthened their animal protection laws this year, it was important that the 2012 Rankings assessment evolved to include this new ‘ag gag’ category, to reflect a more complete picture of current animal protection.”
In reviewing the results from ALDF’s Rankings Reports over the past five years, more than three quarters of all states and territories experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws:
- 25% of jurisdictions improved 2-10%
- 55% of jurisdictions improved 11-50%
- 11% of jurisdictions improved by greater than 50%:
District of Columbia: 64%
These improvements included, among others:
- Expanding the range of protections for animals
- Providing stiffer penalties for offenders
- Strengthening standards of care for animals
- Reporting of animal cruelty cases by veterinarians and other professionals
- Mitigating and recovering costs associated with the care of mistreated animals
- Requiring mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders
- Banning ownership of animals following convictions
- Including animals in domestic violence protective orders
- Prohibiting convicted abusers from gaining employment involving animal contact
- Strengthening provisions on the sale and possession of exotic animals
- Expanding humane officers’ powers to be the same as other peace officers
One of the frequently used measures for gauging the state of animal protection laws in the U.S. has been the presence or absence of felony-level penalties for the most egregious types of abuse. Since ALDF released its first U.S. rankings report in 2006, there has been noticeable progress in this indicator:
- Seven jurisdictions added—for the first time—felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi and Utah.
- Six jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Puerto Rico.
- Nine jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect:Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Tennessee.
- Seven jurisdictions made repeated abandonment, or abandonment that results in the death or serious injury of an animal, a felony: Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Puerto Rico.
- Three jurisdictions added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.
Despite these gains, there still remains room for improvement in every jurisdiction. ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program Director, Scott Heiser, notes that, “as a former elected prosecutor who works with law enforcement daily in jurisdictions all over the country, I continue to be amazed at how grossly inadequate many state animal cruelty codes are. However, as constituents and policy makers learn more and more about the cognitive capacities of animals and the direct correlation between animal abuse and other crimes, we are hopeful that these shortcomings will get fixed.”
Sizable majorities of all households now include at least one animal, and polls continue to show that the public cares deeply about animal welfare. ALDF’s goals in these ongoing reviews are to continue to shed light on the important issue of animal protection, to compare and contrast the differences and similarities in the provinces and territories, and to garner support for strengthening and enforcing animal protection laws throughout the country.
ALDF encourages those who care about the welfare and protection of animals to contact their elected officials about the importance of having strong, comprehensive laws in this field, and to alert law enforcement should they ever witness animal abuse or neglect.