Pending legislation in Maine would allow the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to waive costs and fees associated with the surrender of animals, including horses, in animal cruelty cases. But some equine advocates believe the measure could do more harm than good if passed.

Introduced May 11 by Maine State Representative Thomas Skolfield, HP 1097 would also allow the commissioner to decide that a case should not be sent to the state’s attorney, providing the subject of the investigation has voluntarily surrendered the animals to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry and has not previously been charged with animal cruelty or neglect. If the Commissioner waives fees or decides not to forward the case to the state’s attorney, the subject of the investigation must sign an affidavit promising never again to own animals of the same species as the ones were surrendered.

In written testimony, Lance Libby, senior policy adviser to Maine Governor Paul LePage, states HP 1097 is intended to “strike a balance between ensuring all animals are safe while also not tying up (District Attorney) offices and the Attorney General’s office with cases that could be handled by the department.”

However, Meris J. Bickford, Esq., CEO of the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, believes the proposed bill could be counterproductive.

Bickford said animal cruelty investigations are already conducted by many different agencies, but the bill would change the decision-making with respect to charges and prosecutions. It would also prevent an unbiased professional prosecutor from property evaluating investigative findings, she opined. Finally, she believes allowing alleged animal abusers to avoid legal and financial consequences by signing an affidavit banning future animal ownership is largely unenforceable.

“This bill could potentially encourage an increase in cruelty to animals, including horses, because there is no predictable consequence for the conduct that violates the (state’s animal cruelty) statute,” Bickford said.

Skolfield was unavailable for comment.

HP1097 remains pending.