Lawmakers threaten to filibuster animal welfare bill with more than 200 motions

February 15, 2016
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At the start of his term in 2014, President Luis Guillermo Solís promised that getting legislation passed to improve animal welfare in Costa Rica would be a priority for his administration. But a bill to do just that has stalled for over a year in the Legislative Assembly, where it hasn’t even been brought up for a vote in the Environmental Commission.

That bill now faces further challenges, as last week several legislators, including the National Liberation Party’s Juan Marín and Aracelly Segura and the Broad Front Party’s Suray Carrillo, demanded that several articles be removed because they would hurt farmers or end entertainment events such as Tico bullfighting, rodeos and horse parades, according to the lawmakers.

Marín said that if their demands are not met, the group of lawmakers would file “more than 200 motions” to obstruct the bill’s approval. He said the use of animals in commercial activities or public events already is covered by laws from other public agencies such as the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry and the National Animal Health Service.

“We tried to amend the bill during its drafting, but we haven’t had any support,” Marín said. “So, we’re going to block it by using any available procedure authorized by legislative regulations, including filing all those motions.”

Commission member Marcela Guerrero from the ruling Citizen Action Party stood firm on the regulation of farm animals, saying at last week’s commission meeting that it proposed “to punish abuse against all kinds of animals, not only pets.”

Guerrero said she is willing to negotiate, but the terms proposed by the PLN and the FA are “complicated.”

Several articles over the past year have been modified following discussion and criticism by industry groups such as the Agriculture and Agribusiness Chamber, and pork and cattle producers.

A work in progress

The original drafting of the bill proposed penalties of up to six years in prison for those found guilty of abusing or killing an animal. The current draft now sets separate penalties for abuse and death.

In abuse cases, the proposed maximum sentence of two years was replaced by a small fine, the equivalent of about $700.

The new article also describes abuse as any action affecting an animal’s health, including the loss or disabling of a body organ. It would sanction those who promote animal fights, perform sexual acts on animals or practices vivisection on them with purposes not related to scientific research.

For those who intentionally cause the death of an animal, the draft bill currently stipulates a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

The proposal excludes from sanctions those who use animals in productive activities such as fishing, aquaculture, livestock and veterinary practices. It also allows under a number of regulations Tico bullfighting, horse parades and other traditional events in which animals participate.

Lawmakers added an article on “alternative punishment” stating that judges would have the flexibility to replace sanctions with community service for first-time offenders.

Guerrero said lawmakers’ opposition to the current draft is unjustified because it includes provisions that exclude sanctions on the use of animals in farming and other economic activities. She also said that a lack of consensus in the commission could result in a decision to send the bill for discussion and approval directly to the full Assembly.

The Broad Front Party’s Ligia Fallas also opposes the bill in its current form, but for different reasons: She thinks the sanctions are not severe enough.

Fallas criticized Marín and other lawmakers for attempting to remove articles to punish animal torture and set prison sentences.

“The current draft says, for example, that you can denounce and prosecute a person who abuses or tortures an animal only if there is a visible mark. So what happens when torture or abuse does not leave marks?” she said.

Fallas also lamented that bullfights and other similar events “where torture systematically occurs” are now excluded from sanctions.

The lawmaker filed a motion to include torture as a crime that would be punished with prison sentences ranging from 6 months to two years. The proposal aims to sanction “anyone who causes suffering, pain or prolonged agony to an animal.”

The legislator on Feb. 22 will file, in a public event, a bill aimed at recognizing “animals’ sentience,” or “their capacity to feel.”

Citizen action

During his presidential campaign, President Solís promised to prioritize the approval of Bill #18,298, but he failed to include it in the Legislative Assembly’s agenda during his first year in office.

In November 2014, he pledged to include the animal welfare bill in the Assembly’s agenda for 2015, a promise to animal rights advocates who staged marches and public demonstrations. Solís complied later in December, but he then tabled the bill in February in exchange for a bill to build a new highway between San José and the Alajuela canton of San Ramón.

The current lack of progress in the legislative commission is again prompting reaction from citizen advocacy groups who plan demonstrations in coming days to pressure lawmakers.

The first group to protest will be “Somos Hermanos Animalistas” (“We are Pro-Animals”), who will hold a demonstration in front of the Legislative Assembly in downtown San José, on Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Cases of animal abuse in Costa Rica are on the rise. The National Animal Health Service in early December reported that abuse complaints already had surpassed by 15 percent the number registered in 2014.

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