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By ADAM CRISP
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Tennessee’s worst animal abusers could have their names, address and photos posted on a state Web site, much like convicted sex offenders, if state legislators approve.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on the Tennessee Animal Abuser Registration, Tracking and Verification Act of 2008.
“Aggravated animal cruelty is something that’s truly shocking,” said Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, the bill’s sponsor. “It demonstrates a malignant heart. This is a person who would be capable of many other crimes.”
If passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor, the bill would create a statewide Internet-based database of every individual convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, bestiality and dog fighting. There are about three convictions statewide per year for the most severe of the crimes, aggravated animal cruelty, Sen. Jackson said. However, he said there could be more.
While Sen. Jackson said his proposed legislation is gaining support from animal advocacy groups, the bill faces an uphill battle at the Capitol, starting with its first hurdle this week.
State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she opposes the bill.
“There are lot of other lists I’d like to see out there besides that one,” she said. “We don’t have a registry for wife abusers and child abusers, so why animal abusers?”
If passed, the registry would be the first of its kind in the country, according to LeighAnn McCullum, Tennessee state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
“If it’s successful in Tennessee, we’d certainly like to model other states’ legislation after it,” Ms. McCullum said. “These crimes are really about victimization. We know that harming an animal is often the first step toward harming a human.”
Sen. Jackson said criticism of the bill has centered on its cost in relation to the relatively low number of offenders. He estimated the Web site’s start-up cost to be about $20,000 in its first year.
But posting offender’s conviction information and photo would deter the behavior and provide an added consequence, he said.
“I’m trying to develop some ideas to combat animal abuse that doesn’t involve more jail time,” Sen. Jackson said. “You have to keep animal abuse statutes in line with crimes against people. You hit a glass ceiling with animal laws at some point. You can’t have an animal abuse conviction get more time that a child abuse conviction, for example.”
In 2004, Tennessee made aggravated animal cruelty a Class E felony with a prison sentence between one and six years in addition to fines.
But Sen. Jackson worries district attorneys plead the cases down to lesser felonies.
Guy Bilyeu, executive director of the Hamilton County Humane Educational Society, said Sen. Jackson’s proposal has merit.
“Those crimes are a concern to us,” he said. “We adopt out all the time and we’d prefer not to have anything to do with someone who abuses an animal.”
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