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'Nitro's Law' dies before going up for Ohio Senate vote

Tom Jackson • Dec 22, 2012 at 5:35 AM

Dogs may be man's best friend, but apparently they don't have enough friends in the Ohio Senate.

A bill that could have made it a felony to mistreat kennel dogs died in the Senate Rules Committee this year, even though it enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support and was supported by all House members from the Sandusky area.

All in all, 2012 was a mixed bag for animal lovers lobbying the Ohio General Assembly.

Lawmakers approved, and Gov. John Kasich signed, a new law regulating large-volume dog-breeding operations in Ohio.

The law dealing with "puppy mills" was sorely needed. Ohio had become a haven for bad operators because dog breeders weren't regulated here, said Karen Minton, Ohio's director for the Humane Society of the U.S.

But Rep. Ron Gerberry's House Bill 108 didn't make it through the legislature, despite backing from the Humane Society and other animal rights supporters.

Gerberry's bill, also known as "Nitro's Law," stems from a 2008 scandal in Youngstown. A dog training facility there neglected and starved 19 dogs it was housing. Eight dogs starved to death, including a Rottweiler named Nitro. The owner was convicted of four misdemeanor charges and served less than four months in jail.

Ohio is one of only five states that don't impose felony charges for animal cruelty, even in particularly horrible cases involving many animals, Minton said.

Since 2009, Gerberry has tried to gain approval on a proposal to allow prosecutors to file felonies in animal cruelty cases at dog kennels, particularly when a case is especially heinous. Prosecutors could still choose to file misdemeanors in such cases.

His latest attempt, House Bill 108, was co-sponsored by Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky. It passed the House 82-11 on Feb. 15, 2012, with Murray, Rep. Terry Boose, R-Norwalk, Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, and Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, all voting in favor.

"You have some people from the darker parts of the state who voted no," Murray said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved it 15-0, Gerberry said, but the bill never emerged from the Rules Committee.

Sen. Tom Niehaus, the Senate president, was chairman of Rules.

Niehaus' spokeswoman, Angela Melecka, said the Senate ran out of time.

"The reason it was not heard is we simply didn't have time before the end of this general assembly," she said. "That is the reason it was not taken up for a vote on the Senate floor."

Asked if the Senate really ran out of time on a bill that was approved in February, Murray replied: "It's a bogus excuse. You unfortunately have cavemen in the Senate Republican Caucus who don't want the bill to pass. There are people who just don't support the policy there should be enhanced punishment for mistreatment of animals."

Gerberry said he lobbied hard, right up until the session ended this month, to get his measure to the Senate floor.

He said he doesn't understand why his bill was allowed to die.

"This is not a partisan issue," he said, frustration evident in his voice. "We all love our companion animals. We all think they should not be abused."

But he also plans to try again.

"I will reintroduce the bill in January," Gerberry said.


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