BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Lawmakers and animal rights activists from all across the state are fighting to put some teeth into Mississippi's animal cruelty law. Mississippi ranks near the bottom when it comes to states that prosecute and sentence people who abuse and torture cats and dogs.
A state senator from South Mississippi has been leading the charge to crack down on people who abuse cats and dogs. Sen. Angela Hill says the current law is not strong enough.
Right now, if someone tortures a cat or dog, it's just a misdemeanor, and no matter how many animals someone abuses, they face just one charge. Hill said that needs to change, but advocates for stiffer penalties keep running into a powerful roadblock.
Hill feels very passionate about the need to put some teeth into the law.
"If you torture an animal. If you burn, scald or chop them up with a hedge trimmer, you're a social deviant and you're a danger to society," said Hill.
The lawmaker from Picayune has been fighting to strengthen Mississippi's animal cruelty law. For three consecutive years, she has filed a bill in the legislature. Every year, the bill dies. Her 2017 legislation never got out of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
There's one major change Hill says needs to be made to state law.
"Law enforcement can only charge one charge, no matter how many animals are being neglected or abused," Hill said.
Mississippi is one of only a handful of states where animal cruelty is considered a misdemeanor, unless the offender has previously been arrested on another charge. Hill and other legislators want to make the first offense a felony.
High profile cases around the state, including two situations on the coast, magnified the issue to a point where Hill thought this was the year to put teeth in the Mississippi law.
"I think with all the media coverage and the public ground swell of support for this bill, I thought it had a better chance. I did not underestimate the power of lobby," according to Hill.
Many people in the state who have been fighting to strengthen the animal cruelty law point the finger at Mississippi Farm Bureau, headquartered in Jackson. They say the farm bureau has lobbied heavily against changing existing the law.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau, which represents agricultural interests in the state, is afraid if the law is changed it could be used to apply to livestock. Hill said that's ridiculous.
"It is strictly for cruelty, simple neglect, or heinous abuse to dogs and cats," said Hill.
The farm bureau declined to do an interview but did issue this statement:
Farm Bureau would like to see the current law enforced to its fullest extent before adding additional laws.
Billy Hudson, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, did not comment on the issue until we caught up with him outside senate chambers. He echoed the farm bureau's contention.
"It's plenty strong enough to do the job if prosecutors and judges will do it. All we can do is pass laws. We can't make them enforce it," Hudson said.
In the Moss Point cat scalding case, under existing law, the judge did throw the book at the defendant. The punishment could have been much stiffer if first offense animal cruelty were a felony.
Hill also wants to require all cases be turned over to the FBI, because anyone who commits such a heinous act is considered a person worth watching.
"If you look at FBI data, most of these people who shoot up schools or become serial killers, they all tortured animals," Hill said.
A similar bill suffered the same fate over in the other chamber. It died in the house agriculture committee, adding more fuel to the farm bureau story.
Hill said she will not give up. She plans to introduce another bill to strengthen Mississippi's animal cruelty law during the 2018 legislative session.