Conference committees began work Tuesday on hashing out details of legislation that would increase penalties for animal cruelty and drunken driving.
Legislators discussing Senate Bill 2211, the animal cruelty bill, were unable to come to a consensus and agreed to meet again on Thursday. Committee members discussing House Bill 1302, the DUI bill, also were unable to come to a consensus. A date for their next meeting wasn’t set on Tuesday.
Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said changes made by the House to SB2211 removed the felony charge from the first and second offenses.
The bill now allows for those charged with abuse, neglect and abandonment to face a Class A misdemeanor for the first and second offenses. A third and subsequent offenses would be Class C felonies Animal cruelty would be a Class C felony charge on the first offense.
Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said the House also made changes to language defining abuse, neglect, abandonment and cruelty.
SB2211 passed the Senate 45-0 on Feb. 8 and the House by a 90-1 vote on April 3.
Rust added that there were other amendments made to SB2211. They include providing law enforcement with a list of veterinarians when dealing with a case. It also would require agricultural and livestock organizations to provide information to Legislative Management during the interim on the impact of SB2211.
Asked about language making exceptions for predators and unwelcome animals, Rust said, “you can’t write in every possible exception” into the bill.
Rust compared animal neglect to animal cruelty. He said cases of neglect are more likely from someone being lazy or absent-minded and not providing adequate care of an animal. He called animal cruelty a more severe degree of inappropriate treatment.
“You’re ratcheting it up a bit,” Rust said. “You have something of a sadistic mind.”
HB1302 will make a first and second DUI conviction a Class B misdemeanor, a third conviction a Class A misdemeanor and a fourth or subsequent conviction a Class C felony.
Lawmakers added a vehicular homicide provision to the bill. It also has appropriations in HB1302 for alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets and for an underage drinking prevention program to be administered by the Department of Human Services.
HB1302 passed the House by an 80-14 vote on Feb. 27 and by a 47-0 vote on April 10 in the Senate.
Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said the rationale for making a second offense a Class B misdemeanor was due to the impact it could have on municipal and county courts.
“(It) would’ve been a substantial shift,” Armstrong said.
Class A misdemeanor cases would shift from municipal court to county court, since municipal courts only hear up to Class B misdemeanor cases. Armstrong said that could impact the court system and also could affect already-crowded county jails.
Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, suggested allowing the change to a Class A misdemeanor but also changing state law to allow municipal courts to hear Class A misdemeanor DUI cases.
“I believe we can do that,” Koppelman said.
Armstrong said that while the Legislature does have authority to make the change in state law, “there is a lot of trepidation” about doing so.