Ohio bill would make killing pets a felony

Read the original article by Andrew J. Tobias at cleveland.com here.

Ohio might make it a felony to kill a pet, and make prison time more likely for those convicted of animal cruelty, if a new bill makes it into law.

Senate Bill 205 would make it a third-degree felony to knowingly and needlessly kill a pet, an act that’s currently generally a first-degree misdemeanor for first-time offenders.

It also would make animal cruelty a third-degree felony, as well as create a new crime for people convicted of helping someone else commit animal cruelty.

The bipartisan bill, introduced Wednesday, has key backing from Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican who’s a co-sponsor. It seeks to create a legal distinction between “companion animals,” which live inside and livestock or wild animals that may be killed for sport or agricultural reasons.

The bipartisan bill would be an update to an Ohio law passed in 2016 that made animal cruelty a fifth-degree felony. Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the change is meant to make it more likely that people go to prison if they abuse animals.

Under reformed criminal-sentencing standards passed by state lawmakers in recent years to lesson prison populations, fifth-degree felonies carry a presumption of no jail time. Third-degree felonies leave jail time up to the judge’s discretion.

“There are just some atrocious acts of violence against pets, companion animals, that are literally receiving slaps on the wrist,” he said.

Hottinger said people who abuse animals often commit violence against other people, too.

But Lou Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, questioned whether the law change is necessary. The group, which represents Ohio’s county prosecutors, opposed the 2016 law change too.

“We’re at an environment at the Statehouse right now where we’re struggling to pass bills that offer greater protections for people,” he said. “We were debating a felony strangulation law today and there were concerns that we were filling up the prisons. And we’re debating a promotion of prostitution bill tomorrow and there are similar concerns of filling up the prisons. So I’m worried that bills like this aren’t proportional to the types of harm we really want to prevent in Ohio.”

Among the groups involved with developing ​the proposed law change is the Cleveland Animal Protective League, which enforces Ohio’s animal-protection laws. President and CEO Sharon Harvey cited a recent case in East Cleveland, in which a 27-year-old man was charged with a fifth-degree felony after police said he put a dog in a cage and lit it on fire.

“You look at cases like that, that are such malicious, disturbing acts,” she said. “And the reality in Ohio is that a [fifth-degree felony] means there’s typically no jail time given. There are many of us who feel the punishment should better fit the crime.”

Youngstown Sen. Sean O’Brien, a Democrat, is the bill’s other primary sponsor. Co-sponsors from Northeast Ohio include Sen. Kenny Yuko, the top Democrat in the Senate, and Sen. Michael Rulli, a Salem Republican.

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