Columbus -- There was a deja vu moment in the Ohio House a couple of weeks ago, as lawmakers, on a lopsided vote, passed legislation to increase criminal penalties against people who abuse or neglect pet dogs and cats.
For half an hour or so, lawmakers stood up and mostly sang praises to House Bill 274 and the Cleveland-area television weatherman who the law changes are named after, honoring his efforts to stop animal abuse.
Under the legislation, individuals who "knowingly cause serious physical harm" to companion animals would face felony charges, according to an analysis by the state's legislative service commission.
Under current law, such abuse is considered a misdemeanor on a first offense and a felony on subsequent violations.
The bill also tightens prohibitions in state law for kennel owners who abuse or neglect animals in their care. Resulting fines would be directed to county humane societies or law enforcement who investigate cases of neglect and abuse, to be used for training expenses.
It should, because the state lawmakers have been debating comparable legislation for years.
Just ask Rep. Ron Gerberry (D-Austintown), who carried Nitro's Law for several general assemblies with hopes of ensuring kennel owners who abuse pets would face stiffer penalties.
The legislation was named for a canine that was among more than a dozen dogs found dead or dying from extreme neglect in 2008 at the High Caliber K-9 kennel on Coitsville-Hubbard Road in Youngstown. The owner of the business faced a few misdemeanor convictions and subsequently filed for bankruptcy, avoiding additional civil penalties.
That bill had bipartisan support, passed the Ohio House on multiple occasions and even was recommended for passage on a unanimous vote of a Senate committee, all before being left to die at the end of each session due to opposition in the latter chamber.
Earlier this year, Republicans in the Senate agreed to insert language into the budget that they said would implement the intent of Nitro's Law, ensuring kennel owners and employees who abuse or starve animals could face heightened charges.
Flash forward to the passage of HB 274 in the House earlier this month and you'll hear a lot of the same arguments Gerberry and Nitro's Law advocates have been making for years.
While representatives voiced optimism that the new bill would move through the Senate, Gerberry offered a few words of caution.
"It's the second time during this legislative session that this chamber has really, I think, stood up, and we'll stand up again today, pretty much unanimously, and say abusing animals is wrong," Gerberry said during the floor debate on the bill. "It's something that should be a fifth-degree felony."
He added, "This job is only partially done, because the challenges before you ... are great. There are people that don't agree with this chamber that are across the Rotunda. And we are going to have to do a very, very strong and fervent job of getting these folks to hear it, put it before the committee, let it have a vote and get it to the Senate floor and have a vote there...."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.