The New York City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of a bill that will create a registry of convicted animal abusers in the city, overriding a veto by former mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The legislation, sponsored during Bloomberg’s tenure by former Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., and currently by Councilmember Vincent Gentile, will also bar anyone who has been convicted of an animal abuse crime from owning or living with an animal.
Those who don’t register themselves to the list, or violate the ban, could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a year in prison.
In a phone interview, Vallone said council members did the right thing by overriding Bloomberg’s veto.
“I’m very proud of them for doing that,” he said. “And now we’re going to give this new mayor and this new council a real tool to help protect animals.”
Bloomberg vetoed the bill as his administration drew to a close, but the new City Council’s Committee on Health re-passed it in a unanimous vote on Jan. 29. Gentile said during the committee meeting that law enforcement agencies, pet shops, humane societies and certain other organizations could receive access to the data, “on a need-to-know basis.”
It will be up to Mayor Bill de Blasio to decide which city agency will launch the registry. Once the law goes into effect in October, a city resident convicted of animal abuse under New York State law or another state’s laws will have to self-register for the list. Vallone said he expects it to be administered by the city’s police department.
Lisa Franzetta, a spokesperson for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, applauded Tuesday’s override vote, saying in a phone interview that it would make New York City the largest jurisdiction in the country to have a mandatory animal abuser registry. The fund, based north of San Francisco, had previously offered $10,000 to help support the project.
“We wanted to do what we could to disarm that argument, that the registries would be financially burdensome to jurisdictions, by offering to help defray any startup cost that there might be,” Franzetta said.
But not everyone shared enthusiasm over Tuesday’s vote. In an emailed statement, the ASPCA urged elected officials to concentrate on “legislation that directly protects animals” and bolsters animal welfare laws already on the books.
“Animal abuse registries have a laudable goal, but there is little evidence to suggest that they provide enhanced protection to animals in jeopardy,” the organization said.
Vallone and Franzetta both said they see a benefit to the registry law passing in New York City. According to Vallone, the city may end up being a model for others.
“When New York City takes an action like this, everyone else looks to us and copies it,” he said. “When we do it here, other cities, other countries look to us, so this is really going to lead to animals being protected all over the world.”