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California lawmakers propose harsher penalties for animal cruelty

After attack on sea lions at a Laguna Beach rehabilitation center, state officials push for harsher penalties

In the wake of an attack on a marine wildlife rehabilitation facility in Laguna Beach, five legislators have authored a bill that was introduced Wednesday to increase the penalties for animal cruelty.

The attack last month on the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, in which someone sloshed large amounts of chlorine into a pool where 17 sea lions were being treated, angered the community and animal rights activists and prompted the legislation.

"It takes a certain depravity to commit deliberate harm to an animal in protective care," a written summary of the bill said.

The marine mammal center has received numerous donations and several organizations have offered rewards for information on the case.

Assembly Bill 1543 would seek restitution on behalf of the animals injured at places such as the Laguna Beach center, levying a $5,000 fine per count of animal cruelty, according to a fact sheet issued by one of the legislators. That money would go to the agencies that were victimized.

The fine would be in addition to the animal cruelty penalty of up to $20,000 that can already be imposed under both state and federal law.

The proposed law also would require anyone found guilty of such "violent acts against animals" to undergo, and pay for, counseling that would be determined by a judge.

"It is inexcusable that we do not do more to prevent such atrocities from occurring," Assemblyman William Brough (R-Dana Point) said in a recorded announcement from the Capitol steps during an ASPCA event Tuesday. "That is why we are introducing a bill that creates harsher penalties against animal cruelty."

Assemblymen David Hadley (R-Torrance), Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach) and Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach) and Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) co-authored the bill with Brough. Hadley and Brough are its principal co-authors.

Detectives continue to search for whoever is responsible for dumping chlorine into the water filtration system at the marine mammal center. No arrests have been made.

The search has been supported by two $2,500 reward offers from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Orange County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for aid in solving the case.

Police believe the attack occurred sometime between 8 p.m. April 27 and 6 a.m. April 28. All 17 of the affected sea lions remain at the facility, and none was seriously injured by the chlorine, said Mary Beth Steen, the center's director of development.

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