New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2006


ANIMALS AND THE LAW

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP 2006
by Danielle Bays

A scattering of animal protection issues was introduced during the 2006 session of the New Mexico legislature, a “short” session designed to address the state’s budget. Over the years, more and more non-fiscally related bills have been introduced (with the required “green light” from the governor) during this limited session providing an additional platform for animal advocates. Yet substantive measures, such as complex solutions to some of our more critical problems, still fumble in the tight time frame.

The Animal Sheltering Services Act and the Land, Wildlife and Clean Energy Act were two Animal Protection Voters’ priority bills that failed to pass. Both bills lost traction on fiscal ground: The Animal Sheltering Services Act (SB 122, sponsored by Senator Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, and HB 227, sponsored by Representative Joni Gutierrez, D-Dona Ana) did not receive the needed appropriation to operate the board that would have been created under the act, leaving the bill bogged down in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The Land, Wildlife and Clean Energy Act (SB 407, sponsored by Senator Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and HB 188, sponsored by Representative Ken Martinez, D-Grants) had its long-term, sustainable funding mechanism stripped from the bill by the legislature, essentially gutting the intent of the effort.

This is the third time the Animal Sheltering Services Act died upon adjournment of the legislature after receiving wide support. The bill, which would create an oversight board for public animal shelters and establish a mechanism to train and license those who euthanize shelter animals, passed the full Senate unanimously, as it did the previous year.

The Land, Wildlife and Clean Energy Act was the first attempt by a large coalition of conservation advocates to provide a legacy for future generations of New Mexicans. The Land of Enchantment is the only state in the Southwest that does not have a conservation funding program to ensure our wildlife and habitat endures. The bill sought to earmark a portion of money from the existing Oil and Gas Conservation Tax, around $10 million, for conservation projects across the state. Currently the money goes to the state’s general fund. But lawmakers were not fully sold on the concept and the bill squeaked through the full Senate by a vote of 19-18, before being mired in the House when the legislature adjourned.

On a positive note, the legislature took aim at renegade hunters, barring computer-assisted hunting and providing for stiffer penalties for unlawful trophy hunting.

Computer-assisted hunting, a.k.a. cyber or internet hunting, involves using a home computer to aim a remotely-operated gun at an animal in a captive game park and pull the trigger, killing a real animal. Since cyber-hunting first surfaced in Texas, more than a dozen states have enacted bans. The effort in New Mexico was led by the Wild Friends, a group of young activists organized by the Wildlife Law Center at UNM Law School. The Wild Friends could be seen regularly at the capitol, wearing their trademark turquoise t-shirts, lobbying legislators. The cyber-hunting ban (SB 157, sponsored by Senator Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and HB 634, sponsored by Representative Don Tripp, R-Socorro) passed both the House and Senate with no opposition.

Trophy hunters felt the heat of the legislature, with a bill allowing higher penalties for poaching prize animals, such as elk and oryx. The New Mexico Game Commission can now establish damages recoverable by civil judgment for illegally killing, wounding or possessing a trophy animal. Current fines for poaching are often considered the cost of doing business for these outlaw hunters, because the value of the dead animal’s hide or horns far exceeds the amount of the fine they would have to pay if they got caught. The bills (SB 395, sponsored by Senator Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and HB 536, sponsored by Representative Richard Vigil, D-Ribera) received little opposition.

Two memorials—non-binding legislation—also passed in support of animals. One requests the state department of public safety to create guidelines on evacuation of companion animals during disasters and the other requests improved wild horse management by both the state and federal government.

During Hurricane Katrina, the public witnessed the tragedy of families torn from their companion animals and the resolve of those who refused to leave their animal companions behind. The enormity of this natural disaster highlighted the need for an integrated plan to evacuate and rescue all animals, not just humans. House Memorial 2, sponsored by Representative Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest, requests the state department of public safety to create guidelines for our state and local communities regarding evacuating companion animals. This measure sailed through committee and won approval by the full House with no opposition.

Wild horses got a bit of a boost this session, with Senate Memorial 2, sponsored by Senator Steve Komadina, R-Corrales. The measure encourages improved wild horse management by both the state and the federal Bureau of Land Management. Additionally, it calls for the promotion of wild horse-focused tourism, an effort that would elevate wild horses in the public eye and hopefully guarantee their survival in the years to come.

As of press time, there are two money bills on the governor’s desk that could benefit animals. The capital outlay bill, which funds “brick and mortar” projects from the severance tax, includes money earmarked for both stationary and mobile spay-neuter clinics and improvements for local animal shelters and animal control agencies. The “junior” budget bill contains additional money for statewide spay-neuter projects. The governor has line-item veto power so the final amount awarded to the animals won’t be known until he signs the bills.

Danielle Bays is a partner with Animal Vision Consulting, LLC.

Love for animals, like our own love for one another, comes in seeing the worth and beauty of others apart from us, in understanding that the creatures need not be our equals to be our humble brothers in suffering and sadness and the story of life. – Matthew Scully


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