After over 200 years, South Dakota -- where right now, the harshest punishment for animal cruelty is a misdemeanor -- is finally drafting and executing legislation that will make animal cruelty a felony, something that other states did as early as 1804.
The delay has been largely due to lobbying from the large agricultural industry, which fears a change in the animal welfare law may affect livestock production. In 2012, the state legislature even passed a resolution that banned any "ballot initiative or acts by the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other animal rights groups that would undermine the livelihood of agricultural producers."
But after years of haggling by HSUS, the two sides have finally approached a compromise, with agriculture lobbyists wanting to pass a law they approve of rather than waiting for activists to force a ballot through that they disapprove of. "What it really comes down to is that the ag groups have taken charge of this," State Veterinarian Dr. Dustin Oedekoven told the Huffington Post earlier this month. "Instead of being on defense on the introduction of this type of legislation, they've decided to be at the table in drafting this legislation."
So what will the new laws really mean? AP breaks it down for us:
The bill would make intentional and malicious acts of torture or other cruelty a Class 6 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine, said Mike Held of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. Currently law makes inhumane treatment of animals a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
While many say this is far from ideal, it's a clear way to ensure that all 50 states have strict animal welfare laws.