By Marc Kovac
A panel of state senators has signed off on legislation allowing increased criminal penalties against kennel operators who abuse pets in their care.
But questions remain whether House Bill 108, titled Nitro’s Law in memory of a dog that starved to death at a Youngstown business, will receive a floor vote of the chamber before lawmakers break for the summer.
The bill passed out of the Senate’s agriculture committee this week on a unanimous vote, with a few technical changes that did not change its gist.
It was not on the floor Wednesday and not expected to be scheduled for a vote today, with no commitment of action in coming weeks.
“I think the bill’s in great form, and I’m just hoping the Senate takes it out of [the rules committee] and puts it on the floor for us,” said Rep. Ronald Gerberry, a Democrat from Austintown. He added later, “I don’t believe that mutilating and killing animals should be viewed lightly. Nitro’s Law will at least make someone who’s licensed in this state responsible, and I think that that’s what this is about.”
Nitro was a Rottweiler that was among more than a dozen dogs that were found dead or dying from extreme neglect in 2008 at the High Caliber K-9 kennel on Coitsville-Hubbard Road in Youngstown.
The owner of the business faced a few misdemeanor convictions as a result of the incident and subsequently filed for bankruptcy, avoiding additional civil penalties.
HB 108, sponsored by Gerberry and Rep. Bob Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, would make it illegal for kennel owners, managers or employees to abuse or neglect pets in their care.
Those found guilty of doing so could face felony charges, and judges could place limitations on their future ability to operate kennels.
Sen. Cliff Hite, a Republican from Findlay and chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee, supports the legislation, saying it focuses on those who knowingly starve or abuse an animal, allowing prosecutors to seek felony charges in such instances.
But other members of the majority caucus aren’t sold on the idea yet.
“There are some concerns that if we make penalties tougher for violating an animal than violating a human being, there’s something wrong with that,” Hite said.
Senate President Tom Niehaus told reporters that he did not have a timetable for a floor vote on the legislation.