House OKs narrow bill on animal cruelty

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The House on Wednesday passed legislation to make it a federal crime to sell videos depicting animal cruelty in response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down an earlier version of the law.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), the bill’s chief sponsor, said the measure addressed the court’s free-speech concerns while aiming to stop so-called animal crush videos that show women in high heels stomping on puppies, kittens and rabbits. The measure, which passed 416 to 3, headed to the Senate for expected approval.

The high court in April overturned the conviction of a Virginia man prosecuted under the 1999 law for selling dog-fighting videos. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the law was too broad and could allow prosecutions for selling hunting videos.

This bill is narrowly drafted to prohibit the sale or distribution of only obscene visual depictions of animal cruelty, according to a House Judiciary Committee report.

The Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act excludes the sale or distribution of depictions of hunting, trapping, fishing or “customary and normal veterinary or agricultural husbandry practices.”

“Because it is limited to ‘obscene’ depictions of actual rather than simulated acts that violate animal cruelty laws in particular, the revised statute is more likely, although not certain, to survive constitutional challenge,” said Andrew Tauber, a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Mayer Brown who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the free-speech argument against the earlier law.

“These videos have no redeeming value and clearly fall outside the realm of protected speech,” said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), another bill sponsor. “Not only are they viciously inhumane to the animals involved, but they also teach behavior that can lead to other violent crimes against animals and humans.”

Gallegly took up the issue in 1999 after a Ventura County district attorney ran into problems trying to prosecute a Thousand Oaks man selling over the Internet a video depicting animal cruelty.