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Why the state Legislature failed to pass a law banning bestiality

TALLAHASSEE — From every angle, a ban on animal bestiality, long pushed by state prosecutors and animal rights activists, seemed poised to finally become law this year, with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of the Florida Legislature joining forces to push it through.

Yet it failed.

The inability to outlaw something so repugnant reveals how difficult it can be to get even the most carefully crafted, widely supported bill passed in the Florida Legislature.

Its advocates say that in the political stew of a legislative session, the very outrageousness of the topic worked against it.

Lawmakers said they didn't want to be accused of wasting time addressing a rare crime when Floridians needed them to help create jobs. They also didn't want to debate the icky subject in public meetings occasionally frequented by children.

"The whole thing just kind of collapsed, unfortunately, and so we are back to square one," said Nan Rich, the Senate's incoming minority leader, who has tried since 2008 to close this loophole in the law.

House Majority Leader Adam Hasner said he had hoped for a different outcome.

"I made a personal commitment last year to make sure the House would criminalise that type of disgusting, barbaric behavior," he said.

News reports of Floridians having sex with animals are infrequent, but draw fierce outrage all the same.

There was the Panhandle man who sexually battered and asphyxiated a pregnant goat in 2008. In West Palm Beach, there was a man who molested his neighbor's dog in 2004. Leon County has the story of a man who sexual battered his guide dog in 2005.

"While it is not something that we think is a widespread problem, Florida ought to be able to prosecute these cases when they do happen," said Jennifer Hobgood, Florida state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Animal rape wasn't always legal.

A 1971 Florida Supreme Court decision struck down a law written in 1868 that banned animal bestiality on the grounds that is was too vague. The law prohibited, "abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with beast."

State prosecutors said the court decision made it difficult to convict people who have sex with animals. They must prove the suspect violated Florida's animal cruelty law, which prohibits tormenting or hurting an animal.

"Obviously it is not as easy to prove that it (the sexual act) tormented the animal as it would be as easy to say, 'it is illegal to have sex with an animal,' " said Georgia Cappleman, the chief assistant state attorney in Leon County.

As a result, prosecutors might pursue misconduct charges or other lesser crimes, said Jeanne Howard, the chief assistant state attorney in Palm Beach County.

"We often have to prove injury or repeated inflictions of pain that we are not always able to do with these kinds of cases," she said.

Still, few lawmakers have expressed interest in banning animal bestiality in recent years.

"They just don't like to discuss sex and animals," said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

The Senate passed the measure twice, but it did not earn so much as a hearing in the House until this session, when Hasner proposed a compromise. The ban was tucked into an omnibus agriculture bill (HB 1445), which passed in the House.

But the Senate passed a different agriculture bill on the last day of the session that would have allowed some gun owners to store their guns in their vehicles in previously exempted locations. The bill (SB 382) also added a fertilizer provision that would make it easier for localities to approve strict ordinances. With mere hours left before the session's close, the House refused to take up the gun and fertilizer language, effectively slaying the agriculture bill.

A separate bill that addressed only animal bestiality never made it to the House floor.

Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, summed up the topic's unpopularity: "It is yucky."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Why the state Legislature failed to pass a law banning bestiality 05/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 9:21am]
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