(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Daniel Benson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to revise and strengthen New Jersey law on animal cruelty amid SPCA concerns was approved by the Assembly 63-0-4 on Monday, giving it final legislative approval.
The bill now goes to the governor.
The bill (A-5231) was introduced in response to a report released by the State Commission of Investigation on organizational mismanagement at the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“New Jersey cannot continue to rely on an outdated law and state level organization that has failed to protect animals and their owners from harm,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This bill will ensure that protection of animals is harmonized with our local and county law enforcement and that animal cruelty is investigated and prosecuted with accountability and transparency.”
“Many counties currently have coordinated law enforcement as well as the local sheriff’s department to ensure every animal cruelty complaint is investigated and handled in a timely manner as they should be addressed,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This legislation would allow for a more coordinated police response to animal cruelty complaints in communities.”
This bill would revise the way in which animal cruelty law is enforced in the State by transferring the power of humane law enforcement from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) to the county prosecutor in each county, and requiring the designation of a municipal humane law enforcement officer in each municipality with an existing police department.
This bill would require the county prosecutor of each county to designate an animal cruelty prosecutor, and would allow for the designation of any assistant prosecutor, to investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of the animal cruelty laws of the State. The county prosecutor would also be required to either designate, in consultation with the county sheriff, a county law enforcement officer to serve as the chief humane law enforcement officer of the county, or enter into a memorandum of understanding with the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals which would authorize the county society, under the supervision of the county prosecutor, to assist with animal cruelty law enforcement and designate humane law enforcement officers to assist with investigations, arrest violators, and otherwise act as officers for detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the animal cruelty laws of the state.
A county prosecutor would also be responsible for designating a county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The charter system applicable to county societies under current law would be abolished by this bill. A county society chartered by the NJSPCA at the time of enactment of this bill would then become the county society designated by the county prosecutor. If a county society chartered prior to the enactment of this bill does not wish to be designated as the county society, or if there is no chartered county society in the county, the county prosecutor would be required to select a non-profit corporation that is organized to promote the interests of, and protect and care for, animals to be designated as the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Following abolishment of the charter system, the bill would not require a chartered county society to surrender any assets to the State or any political subdivision or other entity thereof. A county society so designated by a county prosecutor would be responsible for efficiently providing or locating humane shelter and care for any animals at the request of a municipal humane law enforcement officer, a county prosecutor, or a county sheriff.
This bill would require the governing body of each municipality with a police department to designate at least one municipal humane law enforcement officer who would be responsible for animal welfare within the jurisdiction of the municipality, and who would enforce and abide by the animal cruelty laws of the State and ordinances of the municipality. An animal control officer or police officer may be appointed to serve concurrently as a municipal humane law enforcement officer, and a municipal humane law enforcement officer may be appointed concurrently by more than one municipality, so long as the officer would be able to effectively carry out the duties and responsibilities required of each position held. Under current law, animal control officers may be empowered by a municipality to enforce, investigate, and sign complaints concerning any violation of the animal cruelty laws of the State or ordinances of the municipality, and to act as an officer for the detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the animal welfare and animal cruelty laws of the State and ordinances of the municipality. This bill would instead grant those powers to the municipal humane law enforcement officer. A municipal humane law enforcement officer may be authorized by a municipality to use a firearm in the furtherance of the officer’s duties, if the officer has completed a firearms training course approved by the Police Training Commission and twice annually qualifies in the use of a revolver or similar weapon.
All third and fourth degree criminal offenses under the animal cruelty laws of the State received by a municipal humane law enforcement officer would be referred to the county prosecutor for investigation and prosecution, as appropriate. Civil and disorderly persons offenses under the animal cruelty laws of the State may be handled by the municipality in which the violation occurred or in which the offender resides, or may be referred to the county prosecutor.
This bill would require a municipal humane law enforcement officer, and a county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals that has entered into a memorandum of agreement with the county prosecutor, to report annually to the animal cruelty prosecutor on the number of complaints received for each offense under chapter 22 Title 4 of the Revised Statutes, and the number of cases referred to the county prosecutor in the previous year. The animal cruelty prosecutor would be required to report annually, to the Attorney General, the information provided by municipal humane law enforcement officers and the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as applicable, as well as the number of complaints investigated, the number of complaints prosecuted or otherwise litigated, the number of animals adjudged forfeited, the number of animals returned to the owner, and the amount of proceeds collected from fines for violations of chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes.
The bill provides that the Attorney General would be required to take any action necessary to facilitate the reincorporation of the NJSPCA as a non-profit corporation independent of the State. The State would not assume responsibility for any debts, liabilities, or other obligations of the NJSPCA.
Finally, the bill would repeal the provisions of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes which relate to the administration, authority, and duties of the NJSPCA and county societies, as well as the provisions relating to the authority and duties of an animal control officer with respect to animal cruelty law enforcement which would be transferred to the municipal humane law enforcement officer under this bill.