Today in the Legislature

Friday, January 11, 2019 - 01:14 PM

Bill Regarding Animals Left Unattended in Vehicles Passes House Judiciary

Two bills reported out of the House Judiciary Committee Friday, dealing with rescuing animals left unattended in vehicles and a bill clarifying the law related to appeals to the state Supreme Court.

In Friday morning’s meeting, the House Judiciary Committee took up House Bill 2185, which relates to removing animals left unattended in vehicles if their lives are in danger. The committee also took up House Bill 2164, which clarifies that appeals to the state Supreme Court are a matter of right.

The committee reported House Bill 2164 to the full House, recommending passage. House Bill 2185 was also referenced to the House Committee on Finance but members of the Judiciary Committee adopted a motion to request the dispensing of that second committee reference.

The committee adopted a strike and insert to House Bill 2185 to reflect a similar bill passed out of committee last session. Last session’s bill passed 96-1 in the House but died in the Senate. This bill seeks to address the problem of rescuing unattended animals in dangerous or deadly situations.

The bill permits Emergency Medical Service workers, humane officers, law enforcement and fire departments to rescue these animals. Under this bill, these people will be immune from criminal or civil liability resulting from removing the animal. However, the bill does not include members of the public as authorized to remove an animal from the vehicle.

These people are permitted to enter the vehicle if an animal is at risk of exposure to extreme temperatures or insufficient ventilation. However, they may not search the vehicle or seize items from the vehicle unless illegal substances are in plain sight.

There are 28 states that have laws prohibiting confining animals in vehicles under dangerous circumstances. Only West Virginia and New Jersey carry criminal penalties for mistreating animals, according to statistics presented by committee counsel. 

The bill imposes gradated penalties varying on a case-by-case basis. One of the penalties Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, questioned dealt with prohibiting people from owning or living with an animal for five years following a misdemeanor conviction and 15 years following a felony conviction.

Fast proposed an amendment, which was adopted, to reflect a hypothetical situation of a farmer convicted regarding one animal. Fast's amendment would give the judge discretion whether the farmer in this situation would have to remove all animals from his or her farm, following such a conviction. 

The committee adopted two other amendments— one clarifying the language to reflect that an agent would have to act in their official capacity in removing the animal from the vehicle, and another amendment to clarify that payment plans would be arranged for fees.  

The second bill, House Bill 2164, clarifies current court policy that appeals are a matter of right to the state Supreme Court. A similar bill passed unanimously in the House last year.

This bill codifies existing practice of the state Supreme Court but recognizes the Legislature endorses the court’s policy.

The bill states that all appeals will be afforded full, meaningful review, an opportunity to be heard by the state Supreme Court, and a written decision on the merits to be issued. If a litigant appeals a decision, the court must hear the appeal and must issue a memorandum decision reflecting the final disposition of the case.

The committee reported this bill to the full House.

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