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Fulfilling Pledge, Rep. Travis Hutson Files Animal Cruelty Bill Inspired By FPC Student

| January 23, 2014

Rep. Travis Hutson conferring with students from Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School in October, during an elimination process that led to the animal cruelty bill Hutson filed on Jan. 17. (© FlaglerLive)

Rep. Travis Hutson conferring with students from Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School in October, during an elimination process that led to the animal cruelty bill Hutson filed on Jan. 17. (© FlaglerLive)

Animal abuse may cost abusers far more in penalties and punishment if a bill inspired by a Flagler Palm Coast High School student and filed by Rep. Travis Hutson last week becomes law.

For several months starting last year, Flagler County’s freshman representative in the Florida House, Travis Hutson, shepherded nearly two dozen students from the county’s two high schools through the process of researching and arguing for passing bills through the Florida Legislature. In October, Hutson heard those arguments from 18 students in a mock legislative session in Bunnell. By session’s end, he’d seized on one proposal in particular, that of Flagler Palm Coast High School Junior Morgan Purtlebaugh, who was looking to require veterinary clinics to report animal abuse with the same rigor that social service agencies are required to report child abuse.

Morgan Purtlebaugh

Morgan Purtlebaugh

Hutson pledged to have that bill drafted and filed at this year’s legislative session, which begins on March 4. On Friday, Hutson fulfilled his pledge. He filed House Bill 637. (See the full text below.) The bill will have a companion in the Senate, where Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, will be filing a similar bill. That’s necessary for any bill that has hopes of passage: it must pass both chambers of the Legislature.

The measure has this added benefit: with Hutson, a Republican, on the House side, and Abruzzo, a Democrat, on the Senate side, it has the benefit of bi-partisanship. But it still has a long way to go, though Hutson, in an interview Thursday, said the bill may get its first hearing soon in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, on which he sits. “It does help a little bit,” Hutson said, as he’ll be able to advocate for his own bill to clear the first of what will be a series of committee hurdles.

But the bill’s substance has changed considerably from what Purtlebaugh had in mind when the idea was first crafted.

“We’ve morphed a little bit,” Hutson said, “but because of the morphing we’ve got a senate sponsor, we’ve got a bill, we’ve got a package, and we’re going to continue to work with Morgan and the students to make sure everybody is happy as we proceed.”

For one, Purtlebaugh and Hutson, who have conferred since October, discovered that the reporting requirements Purtlebaugh was looking for are already in place, though they can be cumbersome. The bill would make some of those requirements more efficient.

For example, the State Attorney’s office and a society or association for the prevention of cruelty to animals, such as the Humane Society, would be able to file a petition through county court to address an animal abuse issue, which could expedite the process–and more quickly determine whether the individual who has custody of an animal being abused will lose that custody.

The bill also increases the penalty for animal abuse (including such things as depriving an animal of proper shelter or food, killing an animal, or transports it in any cruel manner) from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Punishment would also be stiffly increased: Anyone who intentionally hurts an animal to the point of causing its death or unnecessarily causes the animal pain and suffering “shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 30 months” and ordered to pay a fine not exceeding $10,000. Curiously, the proposal also eliminates the requirement that a person convicted of torturing an animal be required to undergo psychological counseling or anger management.


“Many of the students in our Mock Committee had interests in animal abuse laws,” Hutson said. “By taking this package on, we can ensure that their ideas can be heard in Tallahassee. We will work hard to make sure our winner, Morgan Purtlebaugh, has a chance to speak on this legislation before a committee. It’s the first quarter and we have a long way to go, but at least we are in the game.”

The bill would likely be heard in its first committee early February.

Purtlebaugh says she intends, if possible, to appear before committees to testify. Hutson is hoping that he can arrange for a trip of Flagler County students, including Purtlebaugh, to Tallahassee to see the process in action and testify. The financing, if available, would be arranged either through Hutson’s office or through the Flagler County School Board.

Purtlebaugh for her part has continued to discover “how complicated it is to actually enact a bill, how many people are involved, how many times it has to be re-written and amended.”

Animal Cruelty Bill, Rep. Travis Hutson (2014)

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14 Responses for “Fulfilling Pledge, Rep. Travis Hutson Files Animal Cruelty Bill Inspired By FPC Student”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    This is a good bill. Thank you, Mr. Hutson. People who abuse animals, a despicable act in itself, are likely to move onto hurting members of their own species.

  2. rickg says:

    Glad to see something positive come out of a Republican Florida Legislator. Keep up the good work Hutson and keep the pressure on Morgan.

  3. Diana L says:

    Positive.

  4. w.ryan says:

    I am befuddled. Getting our youth involved with civics is a worthwhile accomplishment. But animal cruelty is the least of the problems we encounter on a day to day basis. Unfortunately I see a politician seizing a moment and posturing with the innocence and ignorance of the youth. When is retributive justice the only way to repentance? A misdemeanor to a felony? Some poor sap could lose there voting rights by kicking a dog? And why would that be the best way to correct the ignorance of unkindness. What about fixing callousness and disregard to the poor, disenfranchised and the destitute. These are worthy topics.

    • M.Lopez says:

      If you followed this bill from the beginning you would know that he worked with the kids on a bill that was voted on in their “mock committees” . If you look at page 4 of the bill, it says that someone has to kill or mutilate, or something of that sort, to be a third degree felony. All the same, DON’T KICK YOUR DOG!

      It might be worth your while to look at what else he is doing!

    • A.S.F. says:

      @w.ryan says–Yes, the things you referred to are worthy topics but animal abuse is not only morally depiscable, it poses a danger to humans as well. People who abuse animals are also likely to abuse other humans. They need to be dealt with before the problem gets even worse. If you had a pet who was abused or killed by some sick person getting their kicks (literally), you would want to see that person punished (and, maybe, evaluated and treated), wouldn’t you? This young woman should be commended for her efforts and I am glad to see Mr. Hutson take the problem seriously. We need to do everything we can to put an end to ALL forms of abuse, human or otherwise.

  5. Genie says:

    W. Ryan, please forgive me for saying so, but if you’re going to abuse an animal, chances are you are not going to care about fixing callousness and your so-called disregard for the poor, disenfranchised and destitute.

    This is a start. Congratulations, Mr. Hutson.

  6. Genie says:

    Excuse me…..CONGRATULATIONS to the students, for taking the responsibility to make this happen.

  7. confidential says:

    Hope to see him soon working to help the economy of Florida and the creation of jobs to reduce the pathetic unemployment rate!

  8. Lefty Wilbury says:

    When can we expect a law banning dogs on pickup truck beds?
    Put your dog into your climate controlled cab, or at least in a bolted on enclosure
    that’s weather protected.

    How do you do that to your dog?

  9. w.ryan says:

    My…can you skim the top any further? Killing thousands in a lie…does that mean those proponents of a war in Iraq kicked their share of dogs. How about Mitt and his dog! Obviously the lives of those innocents meant little to those beating the drums to Iran. The law was fine. To victimize an individual needlessly is my point! This is like the 3 strikes law and the marijuana law that imprison thousands to satisfy a political agenda. Making more voters ineligible to vote and imposing crippling fines is inhumane. I’m sure if these kids knew the ramifications of such changes in this law and those adults didn’t treat the law as a game, these students would have been more in-depth about what they proposed. Funny how a person who run over others with their car can in this county gets away with murder. In that case it’s a light sentence but cruelty to animals is taken so heavy. Believe me, your dogs are safe with me.

    • A.S.F. says:

      @w.ryan says–Unfortunately, your point is a historically accurate one…Agencies to protect animals existed in our country before the advent of agencies to protect women and children. Perhaps this was because women and children were viewed as property and/or beasts of burden, to be treated as such. We should treat any living organism with respect. As for those who still feel it is their right to abuse others, no matter what the species, here’s a thought: What goes around, comes around.

  10. Yvonne Presley says:

    A big thank you to Morgan and Rep. Hutson. But this is just a start. So many issues regarding animals and their need for protection still need to be addressed. I did not notice that Flagler Humane Society/Flagler County Animal Control was consulted. This is something that should be done as they are the agency charged with enforcement.

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