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Multiple animal rights bills head to Senate after overwhelming House passage

OLYMPIA—Three new animal protection and justice bills head to the Washington State Senate after overwhelming passage in House in January.

Standardizing animal abuse penalties

HB 1961, concerning animal cruelty in the first degree, addresses a significant hole in current law, where judges have wide discretion in sentencing for certain forms of animal cruelty, leading to inconsistencies and potentially insufficient penalties for heinous acts.

animal bills
Pictures of the horrific killings of dogs in Yakima being investigated by Pasado’s Safe Haven and PETA. SOURCE: Rasado’s Safe Haven.

The bill hopes to rectify this disparity by reclassifying all forms of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree (RCW 16.52.205) as an Offense Seriousness Level (OSL) III crime. As it stands, only the act of animal cruelty involving sexual conduct is classified as OSL III. By standardizing penalties across all forms of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree, the bill would establish a clear and consistent sentencing framework for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

“The current sentencing disparity for different types of animal cruelty sends a mixed message that some forms of barbarity are acceptable while others are not,” said Representative Sam Low, the primary sponsor of the bill. “This legislation would provide much-needed uniformity and certainty to the justice system, ensuring appropriate penalties for anyone who chooses to inflict suffering on defenseless animals.”

HB 1961 passed the House with 95 yeas and 1 nay on January 29 and received its first reading in the Senate on January 30. It has been referred to the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee for further action.

Prohibit sale of cosmetic products tested on animals

HB 1097, dealing with cosmetic testing on animals, would prohibits the sale of cosmetics in Washington state if any ingredient, or the final product itself, was subject to new animal testing.

PETA Releases First-Ever Video Footage from Inside University of Washington Primate Center.

The bill specifically deals with cosmetic testing and the sale of cosmetic products that used animal testing, not statewide animal testing in general. A separate, unrelated, bill, HB2304, which deals with the University of Washington’s National Primate Research Center, was also introduced this legislative session on January 11 which would require the facility to annually produce data on the primates used for experimentation as well as deaths involved.

While many of these cosmetic companies don’t operate within Washington State proper, if passed this bill would prohibit the sale of cosmetics manufactured outside of the state that involved animal testing.

“We’re really fortunate that consumer trends, and industry trends, are heading in the right direction – consumers are much more aware of the products that they’re purchasing and using and want to make compassionate choices,” Brenna Anderst, Director of Education and Advocacy at Pasado’s Safe Haven, told the Lynnwood Times. “If we don’t address this through a legislative process the consumers will speak more with their dollars which they already have been.”

Anderst explained that at this point in time animal testing for cosmetic products is “pretty unnecessary” because there are literally thousands of ingredients with the history of safe use. 

Brenna Anderst, Director of Education and Advocacy at Pasado’s Safe Haven, oversees the legislative and advocacy work for the organization as well as its education programs and initiatives. 

HB 1097 passed the house with 90 yeas and 3 nays on January 25. It received its first reading in the senate on January 27 and was referred to Business, Financial Services, Gaming and Trade.

Animal shelters during extreme weather events

HB 1012, improving the response to extreme weather events, would create an Extreme Weather Response Grant Program, which would provide animal friendly shelters and transportation when small and under-resourced communities are impacted by extreme weather and/or wildfires.

The bill was initiated due to an event that occurred during the summer of 2021 when a severe heat wave led to the deaths of many Washingtonians and their pets. During extreme weather conditions, including wildfires, many people are forced to make the difficult choice of staying with their pets or seeking shelter. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, HB 1012 would increase the amount of pet-inclusive emergency resources in Washington State by establishing an extreme weather grant program to help small communities and federally recognized tribes provide pet-friendly housing and transportation in the event of extreme weather.

The bill would retrofit already existing extreme cold and extreme heat shelters to be pet friendly. The language of the bill specifically leaves the meaning of “pet” arbitrary to be inclusive of many different animals people consider to be pets, not just limited to cats and dogs – within reason of course.

The bill passed the House with 68 yeas and 30 nays on January 8 and was first read in the Senate on January 10. It was also addressed during a Public Hearing in the Senate Committee on State Government and Elections on January 30.

Looking forward for animal rights

All three bills were lobbied by Sultan-based animal shelter Pasado’s Safe Haven’s Legislative Advocacy Department who worked closely with lawmakers, prosecutors, and law enforcement to identify gaps in the state’s animal protection laws. Many of Washington’s animal protection laws were written over 100 years ago and are extremely outdated, Brenna Anderst explained.

Separate from the three bills, Pasado’s helped bring forward there are a number of other animal-related bills that are being considered at the legislature such as HB 1153, related to octopus farming. Currently Washington State does not have any octopus farms, but this bill would prohibit the creation of one. It would not impact commercial fishing or the sale of octopus, just the farming and cultivation thereof.

Anderst specifically commended Representative Sam Low’s involvement in HB 1961, who worked with Pasado’s during the interim to get the bill drafted. Rep. Low, an animal lover himself, represents Washington’s 39th district where Pasado’s Safe Haven’s sanctuary is located.

animal bills
Representative Sam Low (R-Lake Stevens) with his four-legged best friend at an Aqua Sox Game in Everett, Washington in 2022. SOURCE: Sam Low.

“Every bill has its own journey and its own process based on what committee it might go through or what it’s tackling in Washington State statue, but a lot of it is based off relationship building with our legislatures,” said Brenna Anderst. “When you build a relationship around trust, and facts, and quality information legislatures really do want to listen to Washingtonians and consider what’s important to us.

Studies show that over 60% of Washingtonians are pet owners which is indicative of the love and care residents for animals and their safety.

“Animal issues are community issues and by having really clear animal cruelty protection laws in place we’re really not just protecting animals, we’re protecting our entire community,” said Anderst. “I think that’s been really evident by the support that we’ve been getting from legislatures.”

After this year’s legislative session, which is exactly half-way through today, Pasado’s plans to work closely with legislatures to secure more funding for animal shelters, particularly in Eastern Washington which she said are “severely underfunded,” as well as securing more funding more spay and neuter services for low-income families and communities that would help control pet overpopulation and its impact on local shelters.

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