By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- The House and Senate have come to agreement on legislation stiffening penalties for animal abuse and requiring veterinarians to report suspected mistreatment.
In October 2013 in response to reports of "Puppy Doe," an abused 2-year-old pitbull, Massachusetts Senate Republicans filed legislation dubbed Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety, or PAWS Act.
In the final days of formal sessions, the two branches exchanged different versions of the bill, before the House passed the version (H 4388) that both chambers agree with, according to Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.
"It had been significantly narrowed by the House," Tarr told the News Service after a session Monday where the Senate formally agreed to the House bill. He said in the new version "we've agreed on everything."
The bill would require veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse to police, which is not currently a requirement, according to a Tarr aide.
Under the bill, vets who don't report abuse would be reported to the Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine.
State statute currently protects vets who report abuse from facing liabilities for making the report.
The bill also ups the penalties for malicious killing, injury or cruelty to animals, increasing the maximum prison sentence from five years to seven years for a first offense, and up to 10 years for a subsequent offense. In addition offenders could face fines, which have been increased to $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for a subsequent offense.
The bill does not include provisions sought by Senate Republicans calling for an animal abuse hotline, and creating an animal abuse registry. Tarr's original bill would have also increased the penalty for a hit-and-run against a dog or cat from a $50 fine to a $2,000 fine and up to 60 days imprisonment.
The PAWS legislation, which now requires only procedural votes before reaching the governor's desk, would also form a task force to investigate current animal abuse laws.