Voting to add an abortion-related amendment Tuesday, the Texas House pulled the teeth from a bill intended to enhance criminal penalties for torturing and killing pets.
Senate Bill 762 sought to raise the penalty to a third-degree felony, which has a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, for the worst types of animal abuse.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, was outraged by the attempt to increase the punishment, saying abortion regulations recently approved by the House would make it only a state jail felony, with up to two years in jail, for abortion doctors who perform a “partial-birth” or a “dismemberment” abortion.
Tinderholt’s amendment proposed limiting animal cruelty to a state jail felony.
“I cannot, will not and shall not allow the Texas House to place a higher value to a pet over the life of a human being,” said Tinderholt, who earlier this session filed a bill to outlaw abortion that was not acted upon.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, the House sponsor of SB 762, said Tinderholt’s amendment would not only keep animal cruelty punishments unchanged, it would remove enhancement provisions that increase punishment for repeat convictions for animal cruelty.
“You chose to grandstand on this bill,” Moody told Tinderholt. “I think that’s tragic.”
Voting largely along party lines, the House adopted Tinderholt’s amendment 83-60, with about 10 Republicans voting against it.
After the vote, Moody told the House that criminal justice experts and two relevant committees had examined the bill before it was brought to the floor.
“What we let happen on the floor here today is you let someone who doesn’t understand criminal law change criminal law,” Moody said. “You’re going to let someone change criminal law who has no clue how that works.”
At that point, Tinderholt interrupted, calling a point of order by citing a House rule against overly personal attacks on the House floor.
Shortly thereafter, the House voted 97-39 to initially approve the bill. A final vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
Moody told the American-Statesman that his staff is studying the amendment “to see if there are opportunities to take it to a conference committee” with the Senate to work on the amendment language.
The Tinderholt amendment, Moody said, decimated a bill that was intended to make it easier to prosecute horrendous abuse against pets.
“The amendment that was adopted results in a nonsense statute that takes the highest-level offenses for animal cruelty — for crushing a dog’s head, dragging an animal behind your car, dousing an animal with an accelerant and setting it on fire — it makes that a state jail felony, which is six months to two years, and allows no enhancement,” Moody said.
“So it is a step backward on the most vicious crimes,” he said.