Advocates of animal welfare were at the Colorado State Capitol on Tuesday to support Senate Bill 20-104.
The proposed bill, named "Powers Of Bureau Of Animal Protection Agents," aims to clarify a statute allowing Bureau of Animal Protection (BAP) agents to investigate and impound companion animals, meaning cats, dogs, and non-livestock animals, in criminal and civil cruelty cases. The bill was moved to a second reading by a unanimous vote in the Colorado Senate Local Government Committee.
Bureau of Animal Protection agents are employed by nonprofit agencies, have a commissioner standard of 40 hours of training and play a role in preventing and ending animal cruelty. BAP agents are a support mechanism for local law enforcement agencies in animal cruelty and neglect investigations. Some examples of nonprofit BAP agencies include the Colorado Humane Society and SPCA, Larimer Humane Society and Roice-Hurst Humane Society.
A 2015 report by the Colorado Department of Agriculture says that BAP agents cannot investigate animal cruelty. A conflicting document was released the same year from the Office of Legislative Legal Services which stated that BAP agents can investigate animal cruelty and neglect. The conflicting documents caused a lack of clarity as to what authority BAP agents have to look into animal cruelty and neglect cases.
"The lack of clarity of the word 'Investigation' challenges the ability to understand how best to help animals," said Duane Adams, the vice president of operations for the Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL), a local nonprofit animal shelter and humane society.
The proposed bill would clarify that BAP agents can investigate animal cruelty and neglect and impound animals in criminal and civil cases if there is evidence the animal is endangered to remain with the owner. As of now, agents are only allowed to do an assessment, not a formal investigation. The DDFL said there's been a 70% decrease in animal abuse and neglect investigations in the last five years because of the confusion of what BAP agents have the authority to do.
Proponents of the proposed bill say the lack of clarity for BAP agents is problematic for animal welfare around the state.
"It is especially problematic for rural communities," said Dr. Apryl Steele, CEO of DDFL.
Many rural counties don't have County Sheriff Animal Control agents, and depend on the help of BAP agents from nonprofits such as the Colorado Human Society and SPCA to step in where cruelty is suspected.
"Ninety percent of the time, calls are to help with educational issues," said Steele. "This lack of clarity has tied [BAP agents’] hands when it's a real cruelty issue."
The bill has support from over 100 sheriff's departments according to a list of support given at the bill's reading on Tuesday. Some of the support includes the Colorado Association of Animal Control Officers, Adams County Sheriff, Boulder Police Department and Park County deputies.
"This bill will take the burden off of local law enforcement so they can spend more time on our people," said Jessica Morgan, a former lobbyist for animal welfare. This sentiment was echoed several times throughout support testimony.
No opposition came to testify against the proposed bill.
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