CARSON CITY — Nevadans convicted of intentional acts of animal cruelty would have their names included on a public registry and be banned from owning pets under a bill being drafted by a state lawmaker.
The bill sought by Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, would allow those involved in the sale or adoption of pets to refer to the registry before authorizing an individual to take ownership of an animal.
No person or business would be forced to use the list, but most people who work with pets or have their own pets would be expected to do so.
The bill is similar to legislation sought by Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, in the 2011 legislative session. But instead of requiring government agencies to maintain the registry, Manendo’s bill would use nonprofit groups to perform the task. The cost to local government was a factor in the 2011 measure’s failing to win approval from lawmakers.
Manendo said he has been considering such a registry for some time, and was moved to announce his proposal as a result of a recent animal cruelty case reported in Las Vegas.
In the case, 22-year-old Jeremy Espiritu is accused of brutally slashing and killing the family pet because he said he liked to hurt dogs. A district judge has ordered a psychological assessment and Espiritu will remain jailed without bail until at least next year.
“This animal abuse registry will prevent repeat animal abuse offenders,” Manendo said. “It is common knowledge that animal abuse is usually a precursor to human abuse. Laws are in place to protect children and the elderly. We need to make every effort to have laws that better protect helpless animals and prevent violent behavior towards them.”
Manendo, who is up for re-election to his state Senate seat next year, said his proposal is still being researched. But the bill as envisioned would likely provide the registry as a tool for the public to use rather than be a mandate.
“Groups putting animals up for adoption don’t want to give them away to potential abusers,” he said. “The registry will let them look up a name in just a few minutes to make sure an individual is not on the list. If we prevent even one such case, it will be a win.”
The registry as envisioned by the lawmaker would include only the names of individuals actually convicted in a court of acts of intentional cruelty.
Manendo said he will work with interested groups to craft the best bill possible. Any measure usually goes through some revision as it makes its way through the legislative process.
“I’m not married to how it should work,” he said.
Manendo has two dogs, a beagle named Carson and a poodle he rescued called Coco, who are like family to him and helped get him involved in animal rights issues in the Legislature. The lawmaker said he could not quantify the level of animal abuse in Nevada but according to emails and contact with animal rights groups, it is “rampant” in the state.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, in its 2013 report, identified Nevada as in the middle tier of states for addressing animal welfare issues, ranking 24th.
Beverlee McGrath, legislative advocate for Nevada Political Action for Animals and a lobbyist at the Nevada Legislature for several animal rights groups, is working on the bill with Manendo.
McGrath said similar proposals have failed in other states because of the requirement that it be managed by law enforcement. Using the nonprofits and avoiding a fiscal cost to taxpayers could be the approach that will make the Nevada proposal successful, she said.
But legislation is still needed to ensure that information about cases of intentional animal abuse is released by the Nevada court system to maintain the registry, she said.
A county in New York set up the first such registry in 2010, but other states’ efforts to enact similar proposals have not seen much success. Measures in both Colorado and Maryland failed to win approval, as did Nevada’s 2011 legislation.
Stewart’s bill would have required animal abusers to register with the sheriff of the county of residency, but it did not get a hearing and died without action. Concerns were expressed about adding the reporting requirement onto already overworked local law enforcement agencies.
Nevada Political Action for Animals, a nonprofit organization, would be responsible for maintaining the registry in the southern part of the state under the provisions of Manendo’s bill, which cannot be heard until the 2015 legislative session.
The Nevada Humane Society is considering taking on the responsibility for the northern part of the state.
Kevin Ryan, executive director for the Nevada Humane Society, said the group wants to work with lawmakers to explore all options to try to prevent malicious animal cruelty.
Manendo said he is optimistic his proposal will be well received by his colleagues.
“We are fortunate to have animal organizations who will work with the court system to put this registry in place,” he said. “We have the opportunity to protect our pets from animal abusers and to ensure these same abusers do not go on to hurt people.”
The proposal is the second animal rights oriented measure to come forward for the 2015 session.
State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said last month he has requested legislation to require police to go through training in dealing with dogs to avoid shooting of people’s prized pets.
Parks is working with another animal rights group based in Las Vegas, Nevada Voters for Animals, to develop the proposed measure.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.