ATLANTA -- Spurred by a number of highly publicized incidents of animal cruelty throughout the state in recent months, the Georgia Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would make felonies of more serious cases of animal abuse.
Although Thursday's vote took place after little debate, the bill was the subject of two lengthy, well-attended public hearings late last year. Some poultry breeders complained the legislation would make it illegal to raise birds for export to other states where cockfighting is legal, and hunting enthusiasts were concerned it would affect their sport.
But the substitute version of the bill that emerged from the Senate Natural Resources Committee exempted a list of activities involving animals from its provisions, including hunting, scientific research, exhibitions, competitions and the keeping of livestock.
"It's been crafted so that when someone does something wrong, they're going to know it," said Carolyn Danese, secretary of the Humane Society of Georgia. "We tried to eliminate the gray areas to make sure everyone knows that whatever they were doing before that was legal in Georgia remains legal."
Under the bill, anyone convicted of killing or seriously injuring an animal, through maliciousness or willful neglect, could be sentenced to as much as five years in prison. A second violation could result in up to 10 years behind bars.
Sen. Robert Brown, the bill's sponsor, said one of the more sobering pieces of testimony to come out of the hearings last fall was the research showing that many young people guilty of animal cruelty later commit violent acts against people.
Mr. Brown, D-Macon, has pushed efforts to toughen the penalties for animal cruelty for several years without success.
But the issue received a boost recently from publicity in the Atlanta area surrounding the discovery of a puppy whose mouth had been wired shut, presumably to keep him from barking.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.