Thursday, December 21, 2023

Each year, the Humane Society Legislative Fund reflects on the progress in animal protection made at the state and federal levels on animal protection through their federal and state scorecards. In 2023, Texas legislators rose to the occasion and passed five crucial pro-animal bills which are now law in the state. These newly passed laws will close loopholes exploited by breeders, tighten regulation of service animals, enshrine the legality of Trap-Neuter-Return (T-N-R) programs, prevent animal abusers from possessing certain animals post-conviction, and prohibit breed discrimination in public housing.

The 2023 Texas Humane Scorecard summarizes the actions of sitting Texas legislators on these five bills. The scorecard is intended to uplift those who acted humanely while also holding those who did not vote for animal protection accountable. HSLF invites Texans to review the scorecard and see where their representatives stand on animal welfare.

Lawmakers have the ability to stop cruelty at the source by legislating against animal abuse and exploitation. When we unite behind representatives who understand this mission, we come closer to a more humane Texas and a cruelty-free world.

The following items are scored in the 2023 Texas Humane Scorecard:

  • Licensed Breeder Act – A ✓ indicates a vote for the Licensed Breeder Act (SB 876). Texas has revamped its licensed breeders law with the passage of SB 876. Effective September 1, 2023, the legislation mandates licensing for breeders with five or more breeding females, addressing previous loopholes. It eliminates the need for proof of selling 20 animals, closing a significant accountability gap. Authored by Sens. Flores (R) and Whitmire (D) and sponsored by Rep. Buckley (R), SB 876 aims to curb cruelty and neglect complaints, ensuring the industry aligns with intended standards by January 1, 2024.
  • Fraudulent Service Animals – A ✓ indicates a vote for HB 4164. Combatting the rise in fraudulent service dogs, Texas enacted HB 4164, effective September 1, 2023. Authored by Rep. Cortez (D) and sponsored by Sen. Whitmire (D), the law tightens regulations around service animals. Amending Section 121.006 of the Human Resources Code, HB 4164 clarifies service animal definitions and imposes stricter penalties for misrepresentation. Offenders now face a $1,000 fine, up from $300, and may be required to perform 30 hours of community service for disability-focused organizations. This legislation aims to preserve the rights and safety of legitimate service animal users by deterring fraudulent claims.
  • T-N-R is Not Abandonment – A ✓ indicates a vote for HB 3660. Texas has clarified the legality of Trap-Neuter-Return (T-N-R) programs with the passage of HB 3660. Authored by Rep. Vasut (R) and sponsored by Sen. Zaffirini (D), the law updates Section 42.092(a) of the Texas Penal Code. It defines T-N-R as nonlethal population control, offering defense against prosecution for returning T-N-R cats to outdoor homes. The legislation maintains penalties for the unreasonable abandonment of owned companion animals while safeguarding T-N-R providers from unwarranted legal action. Effective September 1, 2023, HB 3660 ensures the continued success of humane feral cat management programs across the state.
  • Cruelty Prevention – A ✓ indicates a vote for HB 598. Addressing gaps in animal cruelty legislation, Texas enacted HB 598 to enhance post-conviction possession bans. Authored by Rep. Shaheen (R) and sponsored by Sen. Whitmire (D), the law amends Chapter 42 of the Texas Penal Code. Section 42.107 makes it a crime for individuals convicted of animal cruelty to possess non-livestock animals (e.g., cats or dogs) for five years post-conviction. Notably, repeat violations escalate from a Class C to a Class B misdemeanor, reflecting the severity of the offense. Effective September 1, 2023, HB 598 aims to disrupt potential future violence by restricting offenders' access to animals.
  • Pet Inclusive Housing – A ✓ indicates a vote for SB 349. Texas breaks down housing barriers with the passage of SB 349, championing pet-inclusive living. Sponsored by Rep. Anderson (R) and authored by Sen. Springer (R), the law ends dog breed restrictions imposed by public housing authorities. SB 349 mandates compliance with county and municipal dangerous dog regulations, aligning with state law while prohibiting breed-based restrictions. By allowing responsible pet owners the freedom to choose their furry companions, SB 349 seeks to keep families and pets together, reducing surrenders to shelters. This legislation prioritizes the well-being of pets and aims to boost adoptions from Texas shelters, fostering a more inclusive environment for both residents and their beloved animals.

HSLF acknowledges the limitations of judging legislators based on a few votes and co-sponsorships on animal issues, however important those issues may be. In some cases, legislators must miss votes for unavoidable reasons, such as a death in the family, illness, birth of a child or emergency in their district. In assessing the record of your state-level representatives, and your strategy for engaging them in the future, do consider unrecorded matters such as committee participation and performance, House or Senate leadership posts, and constituent service and responsiveness.

Scorecards are an important tool for moving the animal protection agenda forward in Texas, but it only works if it is put into action by supporters like you. Your continuous advocacy for our furry and feathered friends is the reason why the animal protection movement is alive. Let’s keep building on our victories by voting humanely in 2024.