Frustrated by the inability to increase penalties for animal cruelty in the state of Idaho, groups of animal welfare advocates are circulating an initiative petition that, if approved by voters, would make a third conviction for cruelty a felony.
The initiative movement is a response to the Idaho Legislature's failure to act, leaving the state just one of three in the nation in which repeated cruelty to animals is not a felony offense. It shares this hall of shame with North Dakota and South Dakota.
Why? Because the state's powerful dairy and livestock lobbies have been wary of changes, fearing intrusions into their operations by animal rights groups even though states that rank far higher in livestock production have felony animal cruelty laws on the books.
Initiative backers want to bump the maximum penalty for three-time offenders from one year in jail to three years in the state prison. Fines for the first misdemeanor offense also would increase from $100 to $400 and for the second offense from $200 to $600.
The Idaho Cattle Association recently decided to back making animal cruelty a felony in next year's legislative session in an effort to try to head off the initiative, which, if successful, would be on the ballot in 2012.
Backers and voters who support the initiative shouldn't be deterred given that in 2010 a single House committee chair pocketed a bill to amend the cruelty statute and refused to release it from committee even though it had passed the Senate by a huge 34-1 margin.
Repeated cruelty to animals should be a felony. Voters should see to it by supporting the initiative.