The Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee has unanimously recommended a bill that would clarify the state’s animal cruelty laws to ensure that trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs are legal after the House passed it in a near-unanimous vote.
House Bill 3660 passed the lower chamber on April 28 with an overwhelming majority of 142 to two, with only Reps. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) and Reggie Smith (R-Sherman) voting nay. Now in the Senate, the Criminal Justice Committee has sent the proposal to the full body for consideration.
HB 3660 was co-authored by two stalwart Republicans, Reps. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) and Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), but has been sponsored in the Senate by the liberal Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and co-sponsored by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).
The proposal would clarify that a nonlethal population control practice known as a “Trap-Neuter-Return Program” is a legal way of addressing wild animal populations.
The Senate Research Center explained, “Feral, or non-owned and free-roaming, cats negatively impact songbirds, small mammals, amphibians, and other native wildlife populations. Some municipalities and animal advocacy organizations have enacted trap-neuter-release programs, which aim to decrease the number of feral cats over time.”
The bill “would clarify that persons who bring in feral cats as a part of a TNR program, then release them, are not abandoning the animals under animal cruelty law.”
HB 3660 was introduced to resolve a legal question raised by Brazoria County District Attorney Tom Selleck in a request for an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton, as reported by The Dallas Express.
Selleck was concerned that TNR programs might run afoul of Texas Penal Code restrictions that prohibit people from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly treating animals cruelly. That statute specifically forbids abandonment.
“Returning the animal into the wild without making reasonable arrangements for another individual to take custody of said animal operates as a form of abandonment, by letter of the law,” Selleck noted.
However, the animal advocacy group Best Friends Animal Society has argued that the intention of the Texas Penal Code was not to make TNR programs illegal, as The Dallas Express covered. In support of this claim, Best Friends provided Paxton’s office with a letter from Sen. John Whitmire, who originally sponsored the penal code statute on animal cruelty in 2007.
Sen. Whitmire explained, “I believe that … the Texas Penal Code on its face does not prevent, and was never intended to prevent, a municipality or local government from engaging in a TNR program.”
Although Paxton has yet to issue his opinion, HB 3660 would resolve the uncertainty in the language of existing law.
Laura Donahue, the senior director over external affairs and legislative advocacy for Best Friends Animal Society, explained to The Dallas Express that HB 3660 is important because “TNVR [Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return] programs are already being successfully administered across the entire state and are effective at controlling the outdoor cat population without senseless and unnecessary killing of these animals.”
“This bill simply clarifies that these programs do not run afoul of cruelty statutes that were never intended to be used as a justification against this humane, proven practice,” she said.
“If catch-and-kill worked then communities across Texas wouldn’t have a stray cat problem,” Donahue added. “TNVR, on the other hand, has been proven to reduce the number of stray cats over time in a sustainable, thoughtful, and humane manner — that’s good public policy, and we need it.”