The 430th session of the Maryland General Assembly has just reached its mid-point. There have been 1048 bills introduced into the Senate and 1409 in the House. Only a fraction of these will directly affect the horse industry. The Equiery will post regular updates on this news blog.
Increasing Penalties for Animal Cruelty
Maryland House Bill 336, crossfiled as Senate Bill 445, would also require a court to order a defendant convicted of a certain charges of animal cruelty, as a condition of sentencing, to assign ownership of a the animal(s) to the agency or organization that confiscated the animal(s), for disposal at the discretion of that agency or organization and to pay, in addition to any other fines and costs, all reasonable costs incurred in removing, feeding, housing, treating, or euthanizing an animal confiscated from the defendant.
These bills would allow the rescue facilities and animal welfare agencies who have custody of confiscated animals to move forward with adopting out these animals, if possible, or to euthanize them if necessary. The financial burden of caring for seized horses is tremendous, as we all know. Combine this financial burden with the length of time it often takes for these cases to be legally resolved, and compound the situation with the fact that, in many cases, the rescue facilities or welfare agencies can not euthanize horses when needed because of ownership issues. The rescues and shelters need some legal support. All these bills won’t pass, but hopefully something will shake out.
Animal Abuser Registry
Senate Bill 108, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Maryland Horse Industry Board, is really just a “housekeeping bill,” cleaning up ambiguities in the current stable licensing law and stipulating that only facilities which provide services to the public must be inspected and licensed by MDA’s Maryland Horse Industry Board (MHIB), regardless of how many horses that operation has onsite. These services include boarding, riding, training and renting horses. Private operators who do not offer services to the public are exempt.
The law under which the Stable Inspectors are currently operating has various organizations, individual and agencies interpreting its requirements differently. For example, there are sections of the current laws that could be interpreted to mean that breeding farms need to be licensed under this law. While there may be some folks that feel that breeders ought to be licensed, that is neither the practice nor the original intent of the current Stable Licensing program, which is focused on consumer protection. Any attempt to regulate breeding stables would have to be done under new legislation, not within this law. SB 108 actually narrows the scope potential facilities that should be licensed. MDA worked with a focus group of equine industry professionals in crafting this bill. The Equiery supports SB 108.
Montgomery County Right To Farm
The Transportation and Land Use Committee of the Montgomery County Delegation to the General Assembly is considering a bill that would prohibit homeowner covenants in the ag reserve that would prohibit or restrict ordinary farming or other agricultural activities or businesses, or that prohibit the construction of ag-related structures. Understandably, such prohibitions are rather contradictory to the concept of an “ag reserve” area!
According to the Maryland Horse Council’s legislative blog, this bill was brought about in response to recent cases in which residential homeowners in the Ag Reserve have created covenants that would restrict or outright prohibit farming, even on land currently being used for farming. The bill number is currently MC 16-12 and is being closely monitored by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, which works to preserve rural land in both Montgomery and Frederick Counties.
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