(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Daniel Benson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to revise and strengthen New Jersey law on animal cruelty was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday.
The bill was introduced in response to a report released by the State Commission of Investigation on organizational mismanagement at the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"New Jersey cannot continue to rely on an outdated law and state level organization that has failed to protect animals and their owners from harm," said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). "This bill will ensure that protection of animals is harmonized with our local and county law enforcement and that animal cruelty is investigated and prosecuted with accountability and transparency."
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The bill (A-5231) would revise the way animal cruelty law is enforced in the State by transferring the power of humane law enforcement from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) to the county prosecutor in each county, and requiring the designation of a municipal humane law enforcement officer in each municipality with an existing police department.
"Many counties currently have coordinated law enforcement as well as the local sheriff's department to ensure every animal cruelty complaint is investigated and handled in a timely manner as they should be addressed," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This legislation would allow for a more coordinated police response to animal cruelty complaints in communities."
Also, the bill would require the county prosecutor of each county to designate an animal cruelty prosecutor, and allows for the designation of any assistant prosecutor, to investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of the animal cruelty laws of the State. The county prosecutor also would be required to either designate, in consultation with the county sheriff, a county law enforcement officer to serve as the chief humane law enforcement officer of the county, or enter into a memorandum of understanding with the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals authorizing the county society, under the supervision of the county prosecutor, to assist with animal cruelty law enforcement and designate humane law enforcement officers to assist with investigations, arrest violators, and otherwise act as officers for detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the animal cruelty laws of the State.
Municipal humane law enforcement officers would be required to report annually to the animal cruelty prosecutor. In turn, the animal cruelty prosecutor would be required to report annually, to the Attorney General, the information provided by municipal humane law enforcement officers and the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as applicable, as well as the number of complaints investigated, the number of complaints prosecuted or otherwise litigated, the number of animals adjudged forfeited, the number of animals returned to the owner, and the amount of proceeds collected from fines for violations.
The bill provides for the county and municipality would be entitled to a portion of the fines and penalties collected in animal cruelty cases.
The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.