Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is giving new life to a bill that would stiffen the penalties for animal cruelty, and he visited Bradenton to highlight the effort on Monday morning.
Standing outside the Humane Society of Manatee County at 10 a.m., Buchanan said he revived a previous bill — the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) — with co-sponsor Ted Deutch, a Democratic representative from Boca Raton. The law would make animal cruelty a federal crime.
Specifically, the law would criminalize acts of cruelty on federal property or in interstate commerce, making it easier to pursue offenders if they move across state lines.
“This isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue,” Buchanan said. “We’re both working on this together.”
Legislators introduced the PACT Act in 2015 and 2017. It unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate each time, and it subsequently died without a vote in the House.
Blame was assigned to former Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who worked as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He repeatedly blocked such legislation, according to the The Humane Society of the United States.
“From what I gather, he wasn’t that excited about it, but that’s changed with a new chairman out of New York,” Buchanan said on Monday, referring to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
Animal cruelty, including the torment, mutilation or killing of an animal, starts as a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. The penalty is up to one year in jail and a fine of no more than $5,000.
If prosecutors can prove the act was intentional, animal cruelty could lead to a third-degree felony. The penalty is up to five years in jail and a fine of no more than $10,000, along with mandatory counseling or anger management.
Buchanan said the PACT Act would make animal cruelty a felony, resulting in a “substantial fine” and up to seven years in prison.
“It’s crazy to believe that torturing of animals is not a federal crime,” he said on Monday.
The bill would add to a federal law first passed in 1999, which targeted the creation and sale of “crush videos.”
In the recordings, people “brutally kill, mutilate and torture small and defenseless animals as a perverse form of entertainment to be shared over the internet,” according to a news release from Buchanan’s office.
However, the law was “substantially overbroad and therefore invalid under the First Amendment,” according to a ruling in the Supreme Court of the United States, which overturned the legislation in 2010.
A narrower law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, was passed months later. But the law only targets the recording of crush videos, not the heinous acts portrayed in such recordings, Buchanan said on Monday.
The PACT Act would outlaw animal crushing, defined as “actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.”
“Once you get in this business, you realize there’s a lot of people out there that are doing horrible things to animals,” Buchanan said. “We’ve got to stop it, and stop it now.”
Sgt. Anthony Cerniglia and Detective Lixa Moyett, of the Bradenton Police Department, responded to a case of animal cruelty about three years ago. They realized police are best equipped to examine and pursue offenders, so they worked toward changing the local process.
Unless it requested police assistance, Manatee County Animal Services was the first to respond in past years.
The police department has since handled approximately 100 cases of animal cruelty in Bradenton, Cerniglia said.
“These dogs were clearly neglected — somebody needs to pay for that,” he said.