Legislators plan to re-introduce Moose’s Law in New Jersey’s new legislative session, despite Governor Christie’s pocket veto of the bill. The law would prohibit anyone from working with animals in New Jersey, unless the Department of Health (“DOH”) certifies that each employee (volunteer or paid) never violated any part of New Jersey’s animal cruelty statute, or committed any similar violations in other states. The logistics and cost of these investigations have never been addressed, and it is not clear if the information required for review is readily available, can be obtained within the time frame proscribed in the bill, or will actually protect animals from abuse. However, anyone who is not certified is barred from employment which involves contact with animals in New Jersey.
Additionally, the employment bar is permanent, and mandatory, upon a finding of criminal or civil liability of any provision of the animal cruelty statute. The type of businesses that will be affected by these new employment restrictions include:
- Pet stores
- Animal Shelters and Rescues
- Farms with animals-dairy, beef, chickens, ducks, swine, fish, llama, etc.
- Horse barns, stables, racing facilities, including those run by the State of New Jersey
- Veterinary hospitals
- Animal breeders, kennels, doggie day care facilities
- Livestock haulers
- Live bird markets
- Zoos and aquaria
- State and federal officials who work with animals
- Research facilities
- Schools with animals in the classroom
- Animal trainers and groomers
Everyone currently working at these facilities would have to be cleared by the Department of Health before they are permitted to retain their employment. Any new employees cannot work directly with animals, unsupervised, until the DOH provides the certification.
In addition to concerns about this bill that were previously addressed, some of the outstanding legal issues and unintended consequences of this bill include:
- Due process concerns for individuals who previously pled guilty to animal cruelty charges, or agreed to pay a civil penalty instead of pursuing legal defenses. Barring these individuals from employment in any animal-related enterprise, after the fact, is not only unfair, but violates their constitutional rights.
- Criminal violators may be able to expunge their records, and, once expunged, the bar to employment with animals could be reversed. Compare that with an individual who violated a similar provision of the statute, but was only found civilly liable. That individual would not have the ability to expunge their record. Not only is that result nonsensical, defendants may be inclined to reject the ability to plea to a lesser civil charge, because of this permanent punishment. Criminal charges require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, instead of merely a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, these cases would consume considerably greater prosecutorial and judicial resources than they currently require.
- Veterinarians, licensed by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, could have their license revoked without any review by the licensing board, and their professional career permanently terminated.
- Other business owners could face similar draconian results, with no recourse seemingly available, once found criminally or civilly liable. Recent amendments to the cruelty statute added negligence as a statutory violation. Therefore, even unintentional acts could result in a permanent bar to one’s chosen field of work.
The mandatory bar to employment in the re-introduced bill should be amended to permit a judge to consider whether such a bar is reasonable, on a temporary or permanent basis, based on the facts of each case.
To be clear, there are situations where a violator should be banned from working with animals, for a proscribed or permanent period of time. However, that determination should be left to the trier of fact.
It is unfortunate that the suffering endured by Moose is not better memorialized by a law that could actually prevent the cruelty he was exposed to. As written, Moose’s Law is unenforceable, unreasonable, and almost certainly doomed to fail.