ANIMAL WATCH-The PACT (Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture) Act, making "heinous" acts of animal cruelty a federal felony offense -- and specifically targeting the conduct involved in sexual-fetish "crush videos" -- was unanimously approved by both houses of Congress and is on the desk of President Donald Trump for signature.
Two identically worded bills, H.R.724 and S.479, received bipartisan support and ban acts which include "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."
The House bill was sponsored by Vern Buchanan (R) and Ted Deutch (D) both representing Florida. Buchanan stated, “The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Senators Pat Toomey, (R-Pennsylvania), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), stressed the fact that animal abusers often expand to crimes against humans, and this Act can make communities safer.
If the President signs it into law, conviction for violation could result in a sentence of up to seven years.
PERSISTENCE FOR ANIMAL PROTECTION PAYS OFF
This is not the first effort to enact legislation specifically addressing animal "crushing," defined as "someone (often women in high heels or barefoot) crushing small animals to gratify a sexual fetish."
A 1999 federal criminal statute was enacted "to stop the commerce of 'crush videos' and prohibit knowingly creating, selling or possessing depictions of cruelty to animals with the intention of placing such depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain," and also to stop the sale and marketing of videos showing dog fighting and other acts of animal cruelty. It excluded from prosecution "any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value."
But a 2010 decision (United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460), by the Supreme Court of the United States, ruled that the 1999 federal statute was an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
The court did not agree that dog fighting, and severe acts of animal cruelty fall under the same types of "exceptions" to free speech as child pornography.
Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that, "Congress had not sufficiently shown that 'depictions;' were enough to justify a special category of exclusion from free speech protection."
The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 was introduced that same year by California Rep. Elton Gallegly (R), restricting the federal law to "animal crushing" videos. However, the Act only addressed the depiction, marketing and distribution of "obscene material and speech that is integral to criminal conduct." The acts themselves remained legal under federal law.
The PACT Act is crafted to correct this serious oversight. "It is very well written but very narrow in scope," says a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in animal law. He stated, "The wording is careful not to infringe on state or local anti-cruelty laws but, for the first time, deals with actual violence to animals when it occurs on federal property or in interstate commerce, as opposed to just depictions."
"It also clarifies its intent by use of the terms mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, and specifically excludes fish," he added. These include domestic animals/pets or wildlife.
EXEMPTIONS TO THE PACT ACT
"The new law would apply only to criminal acts that occur on federal property or the transporting of animals across state lines for that purpose," Senator Pat Toomey, explained to TribLive, “The states don’t have the authority to control what happens on federal property. We hope that the national attention this bill has received will encourage other lawmakers, federal and state, to revisit and toughen their respective animal cruelty laws.”
The legislation exempts actions involved in veterinary work, animal husbandry, the slaughter of animals for food, sporting activities such as hunting, trapping, fishing and others not otherwise prohibited in Federal law; in addition to exempting pest and predator control and medical or scientific research.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund noted that "existing federal animal protection laws govern only limited cases and don't provide broad safeguards. The 1966 Animal Welfare Act, for instance, mainly applies to zoos, labs and puppy mills. Other laws focus more specifically on transporting livestock or operating slaughterhouses."
PRESIDENT TRUMP WILL MAKE THE FINAL DECISION
The PACT Act has been termed the "first federal animal cruelty law." Will the President sign it? And, will it also become a notable part of the Trump legacy?
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.