As the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat, but if you do it twice in Utah, you may be going to prison.
The Senate passed a bill by the narrowest of margins Thursday that addresses penalties for animal torture. It's viewed as a compromise bill by lawmakers but hated by animal-rights activists who claim that it weakens state laws against those who abuse animals.
"Despite being portrayed as heartless and an animal hater, I'm not," said bill sponsor Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden. Lawmakers have received hundreds, if not thousands of e-mails and letters on the issue, many lambasting Christensen.
He told the story on Thursday of when he was a boy and found his horse in a creek, dying. He sat down, held the horse's big heavy head in his lap and sobbed as it breathed its last breath.
"I'm the best friend an animal has," he said of his bill.
It was supposed to be a consensus bill everyone could agree on. Lawmakers failed to pass a bill in a special session last year and all sides were to come together and find common ground before this year's general session.
But Thursday's voting showed that little common ground was found.
The bill that came out makes it a third-degree felony if you're convicted twice of animal torture within five years. Animal rights groups wanted a first-conviction felony, a position ardently opposed by livestock owners. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, said he wanted the five-year rule removed.
"If you have been convicted of animal torture, I think if you do it again it should be a third-degree felony," he said. "Now every five years you get to be an animal torturer."
The five-year clause has to do with statute of limitation concerns, Christensen said, and besides, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail, no small price to pay.
"I feel it is a slap on the wrist with a sledge hammer," he said.
After attempts to change or completely replace the bill failed, the original passed 15-14, with Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, casting the deciding vote. He voted in favor after previously promising to support the bill once torture was reinstated as a possible offense for livestock owners.
Senate Bill 117, Animal Cruelty Amendments
Sponsor: Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden
This bill would make it a third-degree felony to torture an animal or livestock within five years after being previously convicted of animal torture.