A new Pennsylvania law shields veterinarians from civil liability when they report suspected animal cruelty to law enforcement authorities.

Initially introduced into the Pennsylvania State General Assembly by Representative Mark Keller in 2015, the latest reincarnation was included in HB 1238, which made sweeping changes to the state’s animal cruelty statutes.

Under the legislation any licensed veterinarian, certified veterinary technician, or veterinary assistant, “who reports in good faith and in the normal course of business, a suspected violation of (animal cruelty) to the proper authority shall not be liable for civil damages as a result of reporting the incident.”

Keller believes the law will eliminate veterinarians’ legal concerns about reporting suspected animal abuse and ultimately result in increased animal cruelty prosecutions.

“HB 1238 is a huge win for those in the veterinary profession and the animals that receive their care,” he said. Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), said Pennsylvania is among 30 states with laws requiring veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse cases to local authorities. Of those states, 27 have statutes protecting veterinarians from civil or criminal prosecution if they report suspected animal abuse cases.

“The AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to report cases of animal abuse and neglect to the appropriate authorities, whether or not reporting is mandated by law, and we support Pennsylvania’s efforts to protect veterinarians who are performing their responsibility to report such cases,” San Filippo said. “Removing even the theoretical risk of a lawsuit is beneficial to support timely reporting and investigation of animal abuse cases. “

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe was expected to sign HB 1238 into law on June 28. The measure will go into effect 60 days thereafter.