On Wednesday, February 22, 2022, the South Carolina Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee is scheduled to take action on a very problematic bill that would trample the due process rights of animal owners.
Senate Bill 456 addresses disposition of animals seized due to alleged cruelty or neglect. As the bill is currently constructed, a court would be required to order an animal owner to pay the costs of seizure and costs of care for their confiscated animals throughout the trial process. If unable to pay, the owner would permanently forfeit ownership of their animals, even if the owner is not the one charged with a crime, and even if no person is ever found guilty.
Under current South Carolina law, an owner convicted of cruelty can be required to pay costs of care for impounded animals. This is reasonable. Senate Bill 456 would delete and replace this current law.
URGENT! TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY. All animal owners in the state are urged to immediately contact subcommittee members and respectfully ask them VOTE NO on S 456 until significant problems with the bill can be addressed.
Remember, Monday is a holiday. Take action now! Please scroll down to view specific concerns with the bill and talking points you can use.
Animal owners are also urged to attend the subcommittee meeting to express concerns. There will be a sign-up sheet at the door. You can email staff member Kate Maroney at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance of the subcommittee meeting to advise her that you will attend the meeting on February 22, 2023, 10:00am, Gressette Building, Room 408, 1101 Pendleton Street, Columbia, SC 29201.
Contact Information for Subcommittee Members:
Senator Michael Johnson, Subcommittee Chair
Senator Billy Garrett
Senator Stephen Goldfinch
Senator Richard Harpootlian
Senator J. Thomas McElveen
Concerns and talking points:
Under Senate Bill 456, an owner could permanently lose their animals absent any finding of guilt. The bill provides for the permanent forfeiture of seized animals by operation of law if the owner is unable to pay assessed costs of care throughout proceedings. Forfeiture for lack of payment would also occur in cases where the person accused of a cruelty offense is ultimately found not guilty or charges are dropped.
Senate Bill 456 tramples the due process rights of animal owners. It would require a court to order an animal owner to pay costs of care for confiscated animals based on a determination explicitly limited to whether seizure of the animals was authorized. As long as that requirement is met, a court would be mandated to require payment by the animal owner of amounts sufficient to cover costs of the seizure and care for the confiscated animal from seizure date and continuing through all processes that follow.
Under Senate Bill 456, the owner of confiscated animals has to pay, even if the owner is not accused of an offense. For example, if animals were confiscated because of an accusation against an animal caretaker, such as a stable worker, trainer, boarding kennel operator, etc., it would be the owner who must pay costs of care. S 456 also fails to adequately protect the rights of innocent co-owners of confiscated animals who were not in possession of the animals at the time of confiscation.
Senate Bill 456 does not allow a court to consider an animal owner’s ability to pay for costs of care. An inability to pay would result in permanent forfeiture of the animals, which would raise procedural due process concerns.
Senate Bill 456 provides no meaningful caps on the costs that an animal owner would be required to pay while animals remain confiscated. Further, an innocent animal owner would effectively pay twice for the costs of housing confiscated animals throughout the time of impoundment. This is because an owner would also continue maintaining and keeping available owner-provided housing for their animals while the case is pending.
Senate Bill 456 does not prohibit elective, non-therapeutic procedures or surgeries (such as spay/neuter) from being performed on seized animals. No permanent alteration of confiscated animals should be performed without the owner’s written consent.
Senate Bill 456 does not consider the unintended consequences of S 456, including that the bill potentially incentivizes animal sheltering organizations to promote confiscations of animals. Such confiscations could be authorized by a magistrate in response to a third-party complaint. The sheltering organization then could—and likely would—receive the confiscated animals, and a court would be mandated to require costs of care be paid to the sheltering organization by the animal owner, absent any criminal charges, determination of probable cause, or finding of guilt against the animal owner or any other person. Consequently, even if no person is found guilty, the sheltering organization would receive uncapped costs of care, and if the owner cannot keep up payments, be awarded possession of the animals to be sold/adopted for additional fees.
For additional information, please contact AKC Government Relations at 919-816-3720 or email email@example.com.