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Inslee signs bill creating stricter penalties for animal cruelty

by Staff report
| March 21, 2024 5:18 PM

OLYMPIA — Washington House Bill 1961, aimed at deterring acts of animal cruelty through increased criminal penalties for perpetrators, has been signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, according to a March 14 announcement from the Washington State House Republicans.

Under HB 1961, all instances of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree — which is already a class C felony — will now be classified as a seriousness level III offense. The statement said this reclassification ensures perpetrators of these crimes will be held accountable by removing the possibility of inconsistent and potentially lenient sentencing. 

The statement said judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys will have a clear understanding of the severity of these offenses and the corresponding penalties, leading to more equitable justice for animal victims. 

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens, and will take effect in July.

"By aligning penalties with the gravity of the offenses, House Bill 1961 is sending a strong message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in Washington state," Low wrote in the announcement. "Inconsistency in sentencing benefits abusers because they know they can exploit gaps in the legal system, escaping appropriate punishment for their crimes. This bill addresses this injustice by providing a clear and consistent sentencing framework, ensuring that those who commit acts of animal cruelty are truly held accountable for their actions."

According to the statement, HB 1961 was crafted by Low during the 2023 interim in consultation with Pasado's Safe Haven, an animal sanctuary and advocacy organization.

"I am grateful for the individuals at Pasado's Safe Haven, who played a pivotal role in the development and refinement of the bill's language,” Low wrote. "This partnership underscores our shared commitment to ending animal cruelty and promoting compassion toward all living beings in Washington state. I look forward to continuing this important work in future sessions."