Maybe the Texas Legislature really has gone to the dogs.
Or maybe state lawmakers are just looking out for their furry friends.
Dozens of bills protecting animals — measures that range from getting them out of locked hot cars to preventing bestiality — are weaving through the Texas Capitol in a race to the governor’s desk before the session ends May 29.
“This work is very important because giving animals protection is really a measure of the civility in a community,” said Marcia Kramer, director of legal/legislative programs for the Chicago-based National Anti-Vivisection Society. “If we allow animal abuse to remain unchecked ... we are saying they are valueless creatures.
“And they’re not.”
Other issues pending include proposals to curb tethering of dogs, allow the adoption of research cats and dogs, let Texans add abused or threatened pets to protective orders, and more.
A 2016 review of animal laws across the country shows Texas has work to do.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund studied animal protection laws across the country, comparing them to show how much each state does to protect animals. Texas falls in the middle — No. 29 out of all the states.
“There’s still a long way to go in animal protection,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Kramer agreed and said now is the time to act.
“The only way to protect [animals] is to pass good laws that say it’s not OK to harm them,” she said. “If you give a pass to people who abuse animals, they are going to continue harming them.”
Here’s a look at some of the animal-related bills that appear to be on the move in the Texas Legislature.
Hot vehicles: Several bills are geared toward protecting Texans from civil liability if they break into locked motor vehicles to rescue a vulnerable person or animal that isn’t livestock.
Some proposals create a procedure for good Samaritans. First call 911 or animal control and make sure there’s no way for the person or animal inside to let themselves out. Also check all car doors before smashing a window.
Supporters say this is needed particularly because Texas in 2014 was the nationwide leader in hot-car deaths, according to research by San Francisco State University. They also say anyone who saves the life of a person or animal shouldn’t be threatened with lawsuits for damaging car windows.
Tethering: HB 1156/SB 1090 would make it a crime to restrain a dog without access to food, water, shade or shelter. Violators could face a Class C misdemeanor, which comes with a fine of up to $500, under the bill that has passed the Senate.
Imagine being chained 24/7 (in the) blazing heat, freezing ice, or sleeting rain.
The Texas Humane Legislation Network
“Imagine being chained 24/7 (in the) blazing heat, freezing ice, or sleeting rain,” a statement from the Texas Humane Legislation Network read. “Thousands of dogs across the state only know life like this and many dogs die as a result of inhumane tethering. Strangulation, heatstroke, freezing to death, and inability to access food, water, or shelter are the most common causes.”
The proposal allows tethering under some conditions — if the animal is at a campsite that requires animals to be restrained, is shepherding cattle or livestock or is left in an open-air truck for a short period of time.
Some disagree with the approach.
“Tethers are commonly used by sportsmen and field trialers, and many dog owners use tethers to let pets outside to relieve themselves, or to keep their dogs from leaving the property or running at-large,” said Luke Houghton, associate director of state services with the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Rather than a one-size-fits-all law that criminalizes dog owners, it would be better to judge a tethered dog by its health and amenities provided.”
Adopting research animals: HB 2490 would allow adoption of retired research animals. The proposal calls on research facilities to offer up for adoption any healthy retired cats or dogs they were otherwise planning to euthanize.
In 2015, more than 19,000 cats and 61,000 dogs — including more than 1,600 in Texas — were used in research, testing and teaching, U.S. Department of Agriculture reports show.
“This is our No. 1 legislative priority,” Kramer said. “Hundreds of animals are being used at universities for research.”
Some animals may be used for breeding, or for veterinary students to practice spaying and neutering. The most recent statistics from Texas A&M University in College Station showed that in 2013, a total of 477 dogs were used for research and 188 were euthanized.
“We don’t know what happened to the rest,” Kramer said. “If there are no problems, and they are owned by the university, they should be put up for adoption.” The bill remains in a House committee.
Service animals: HB 2992 addresses concerns about a growing number of people without disabilities misrepresenting themselves and using a dog as an assistance animal, many times to gain benefits given to the disabled. The bill, which makes this a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300 and 30 hours of community service, could head to the House any day.
Cruelty to animals
Several bills filed this session propose cracking down on cruelty to animals. They include:
Banning bestiality: It’s not a crime for Texans to have sex with animals, but a couple of bills would change that. Under the plans, Texans who have sexual contact with animals could receive a sentence up to two years in jail.
And if the animal has severe injuries or dies because of the sexual contact — or if that contact occurs in the presence of a child younger than 18 — the offender could face a felony charge. HB 1087 could soon head to the House. The Senate has already passed SB 1232.
New cruelty database: HB 749 would create a central database with information about people convicted of animal cruelty — or those granted deferred adjudication community supervision for animal cruelty — in Texas. This bill remains in a House committee.
Penalties for cruelty: New proposals boost the penalty for acts of cruelty to animals and let Texans add abused or threatened pets into protective orders.
“We found frequently that some women don’t leave an abusive situation because an abusive person is holding the welfare of an animal over their head, just as they hold the welfare of children over their heads,” Kramer said. “With your children, you can take your children and flee.”
We found frequently that some women don’t leave an abusive situation because an abusive person is holding the welfare of an animal over their head.
Marcia Kramer, director of legal/legislative programs for the National Anti-Vivisection Society
Hunting and more
A variety of hunting-related bills are pending, including:
Hunting from above: HB 3535 would let Texans hunt feral hogs and coyotes from above using hot air balloons. Under the plan, landowners could contract to hunt, or observe the hunting, from hot air balloons. The measure appears headed to the House floor.
Hog poison: HB 3451 prevents the use of lethal pesticides, such as warfarin, to control the feral hog population until a study showing the impact on the environment, hunters and agriculture can be conducted. The measure has passed the House and has been sent to a Senate Committee.
Some hunters and sportsmen “fear that deer, squirrels, and other prey could be adversely affected by warfarin both in terms of the animal’s health as well as its fitness for human consumption,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
Keeping drones away from livestock: HB 1643 requires operators to keep drones away from areas where farmers are raising livestock “as flying such aircraft near animals can have adverse effects on the livestock, thus reducing their value,” according to a bill analysis.
But this bill also would prevent “animal rights groups and others from using drones to document the squalid conditions in which cattle live within large corporate feedlots,” Jones said, adding that this proposal “is flying under the radar, in large part because of the considerable lobbying power of agri-business in Texas.”
Tax holiday for firearms and hunting supplies: Texans could buy ammunition, archery equipment, hunting blinds, gun cases, gun safes and other such supplies tax-free in late August, under bills creating a Second Amendment sales tax holiday. Neither SB 133 nor HB 485 has had a committee hearing yet.
“This bill encourages gun owners and sportsmen to spend their money in Texas and, in doing so, serves as an economic engine for large and small retailers across the state,” state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, has said. “Texas is losing out to our neighboring state to the east that offers these incentives.
“Providing this sales tax benefit prior to the start of hunting season will give our retailers an economic boost and our hunters much deserved savings.”