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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Supporters of legislation to make torturing animals a felony say it is intended to protect people as well as animals.
House Bill 242 would change the penalty for torturing an animal from a class C, B or A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. The charge would be increased to a second-degree felony if an animal is tortured in the presence of a juvenile.
Prosecutors would have to prove that abuse of an animal constituted torture.
Supporters of the bill say increasing the penalties could prevent future abuses, and also stop offenders before they move on to harming humans.
"Our goal is to protect people as much as it is to protect animals," said Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, one of four sponsors of the bill.
He said several serial killers started down the path to murder by torturing animals.
Currently, the highest penalty an animal abuser can face in Utah is a class A misdemeanor, which could result in a one-year prison sentence.
Wyatt, a former Cache County attorney, said that penalty isn't enough when people intentionally injure an animal.
"We want to turn the corner on abuse," he said Monday.
Salt Lake County animal services spokeswoman Temma Martin said, "I would hope that (HB242) would be a deterrent, but it also might give us a tool to stop repeat offenders."
The bill specifically excludes animals in uses such as agriculture, rodeos, hunting, fishing, zoos and medical research as long as accepted and lawful husbandry were practiced.
There are 41 states that impose felony penalties for animal torture, said Wyatt. Utah and Idaho are the only Western states that don't have such laws on the books.
The other sponsors are Reps. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden; Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; and John Mathis, R-Naples.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)