TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Stopping the abuse of animals is on the Florida Legislature's front burner.
A bill that would increase penalties for abusers passed its first House committee unanimously Wednesday morning.
The hope is tougher penalties will catch offenders before their abuse spreads to people.
Earlier this year, video from a police body camera -- depicting a case of animal abuse where a Labrador retriever puppy named Ponce was beaten to death -- shocked the state.
“The dog was gagged, bleeding from the mouth and dead,” said Rep. Thomas Leek, R-Daytona Beach.
The new legislation, entitled "Ponce’s Law," would increase penalties for animal abuse by giving judges more leeway to hand out longer prison sentences.
“We’re going to make animal cruelty much more serious in Florida law. You know it is a felony, but now it’s a more serious felony. We recognize that anybody who can do this to an animal is a dangerous person in our community,” said Laura Bevan, director of the Eastern Regional Office of the Human Society.
Animal abuse is often a red flag for future violent and abusive behavior towards people, including children in some cases.
“Whenever you abuse things like that, that’s a possibility, that it could bleed over into child welfare and even into spousal abuse and so forth,” said Kurt Kelly, CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children.
The bill also gives courts the ability to prohibit an abuser from owning or interacting with animals.
Because there is no animal abuser database in existence, it will be difficult to ensure an abuser won’t be able to obtain another animal.
Sponsors said enforcement will rely heavily on the community keeping an eye on abusers.
Ponce’s Law grew out of a community effort in Daytona, where the dog was killed.
The group gathered more than 70,000 signatures in support of the legislation.