The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that would make the abuse and torture of animals a federal crime.
The Senate will now need to pass its own version of the bill; it has yet to schedule a vote.
Animal welfare advocates urged lawmakers to approve the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT Act) without delay.
“This really is something that should pass,” Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told The Washington Post. “It’s not controversial. It’s what the American people want.”
If approved, the PACT Act would prohibit the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence causing “serious bodily injury” to animals. The bill expands on a 2010 federal law that criminalized the creation and distribution of videos depicting animal cruelty. Animal fighting is also outlawed under federal law.
“The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) who, along with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), introduced the PACT Act in the House. “Passing the [bill] sends a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated.”
Violators of the PACT Act would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years’ imprisonment. However, the bill contains exceptions for hunting, normal veterinary care and “conduct necessary to protect life or property from a serious threat caused by an animal,” according to a press release about the measure.
If signed by the president, the PACT Act will not interfere with local animal cruelty laws or enforcement. All U.S. states have their own animal cruelty laws, but as Block explained to the Post, federal legislation will ensure that cases that span multiple jurisdictions or occur in airports, military bases and other places under federal jurisdiction could be properly prosecuted.
“Most people are shocked to know that the U.S. does not have a federal animal cruelty law,” Holly Gann of the Animal Wellness Foundation said in a statement. “Enacting this bill sends a signal that our nation has no tolerance for intentional cruelty toward animals.”