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Wednesday, 01 December 2010 20:46

New state laws strengthen animal rights, target drivers

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Among new state laws taking effect this week is Susie’s Law, which promises the possibility of judges being able to sentence even first-time offenders to jail for being cruel to animals.

Animal-rights advocates and law officers alike have heralded the change in law — and the overall shift in attitude toward animals — as long overdue.

“I think that’s a good thing,” said Macon County Sheriff Robert “Robby” Holland, who started his career in law enforcement as a part-time animal control officer, Macon County’s first.

“These are animals that cannot defend themselves,” Holland said. “And much of the time, animal abuse and child abuse go hand-in-hand.”

Holland said during his time as an animal control officer, he investigated cases of cruelty toward animals that were taking place in front of young children. The purpose, the sheriff said, was to demonstrate the perpetrators’ power over the children.

The new law is named after a dog in Greensboro who was burned, beaten and left for dead, outraging residents of that city when the perpetrator received probation. Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, was the primary sponsor of the bill.

Penny Wallace, executive director of Haywood Animal Welfare Association, agreed with Holland that animal cruelty, while bad in and of itself, is also often a signal of abuse toward humans, as well.

“My personal opinion is it is the same as spousal or child abuse,” Wallace said, adding there is often a “trickledown” of cruelty.

The law makes extreme animal cruelty a felony. Other new laws also went into effect Dec. 1, including:

• A ban on video sweepstakes machines. The games imitate slot machines. There are court cases that might influence whether this particular set of legislation goes forward to enforcement, however.

• The rear license plate on vehicles must now be fully visible to law enforcement officers. License plate frames and covers cannot conceal a number or letter, state name or registration sticker. The fine if cited can go up to $100.

• Residents will no longer be charged $1 in postage and handling fees by the state Division of Motor Vehicles after renewing registrations through the U.S. mail.

• Commercial driver licenses will expire five years after being issued because of hazardous-materials regulations. Prior to this change, commercial driver licenses expired when the drivers’ Class C licenses expired.

• The number of dealer license plates issued is now tied to previous sales volume and the number of qualified sales representatives working with a car dealer.

• Drivers’ licenses terms increases to eight years for people ages 18 to 65. A driver’s license for someone age 66 or older expires after five years. Previously, the law required a five-year license for those age 55 or older. This law takes effect Jan. 1.

• Anyone violating a domestic-violence protective order to stay away from a spouse or other companion by trespassing or remaining on the premises of a domestic-violence shelter where the protected person is staying will be charged with a felony. Domestic-violence shelters also have been given immunity from lawsuits if someone violates a protective order.

• New state ethics laws have been strengthened. It is illegal for elected state official to threaten or promise preferential treatment to someone doing business with the state in exchange for campaign contributions. Even candidates are subject to this new law.

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