R.I. House passes animal-abuse registry

Read the original article by Patrick Anderson at providencejournal.com here.

Not content with fining and jailing people who hurt animals, Rhode Island lawmakers want to publicly mark them on an online animal-abuser registry.

Anyone convicted of an animal-abuse crime would be required to send their name, address, birthday and a head-shot photo to the attorney general to post online for at least 15 years under a bill that passed the Rhode Island House, 55-16, Thursday. While on the registry, offenders would be prohibited from possessing an animal.

Pet protection may be the the most popular policy subject in the General Assembly, with a number of tough penalties for animal crimes passed in recent years.

“We all love animals,” House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi said Thursday. “Let’s prove it by how we vote today.”

The bill cites a “100% recidivism rate” for animal hoarding, and animal abusers being “statistically more likely to commit violent acts against humans” as reasons for a registry.

But opponents on both sides of the aisle said taking an approach to animal crimes that is used to brand sex offenders will be ineffective.

Registries “create a vigilante mentality in the public,” said Providence Democrat Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, who worried it could also expose low-level pet-store clerks to prosecution or violence from abusers denied service.

The bill also prohibits pet stores or shelters from selling to anyone on the registry, with a fine of $1,000 to anyone who does.

Anyone who abuses an animal is “a piece of crap who should be put in jail,” said Foster Republican Michael Chippendale. But “we have added so many rules” that “a person can be tripped up by a technical bill that someone enforcing it cannot even understand.”

They also took issue with the cost of the registry, which sponsors of the bill have not tried to estimate. Ranglin-Vassell said a Tennessee registry cost $250,000.

“I guess the thing that bothers me is I have been encouraged not to design any new programs because we don’t have the money — and I am not sure where the money is going to come from,” said Newport Democrat Lauren Carson.

But supporters of the bill said the information in the registry is already public and a registry arranges it in a way that would make it easier for those who need to find it.

Cranston Democrat Charlene Lima chalked up opposition to the breeding and pet-store lobby.

She called The American Kennel Club, which opposes the bill, the “American Kennel Club of Cruelty” and the “American Kill Canine Club.”

Lead sponsor Arthur Corvese, a North Providence Democrat, pointed out that animal abusers are more likely to be domestic abusers.

“This chamber has made it very clear we take domestic abuse very seriously and try to put as many arrows in the quiver to fight domestic abuse,” Corvese said. “This goes some way to putting another arrow in that quiver.”

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