Bill would allow judges to appoint ‘animal advocates’

Bill would allow judges to appoint ‘animal advocates’

Sen. Jennifer Bradley

Judges would be authorized to appoint “animal advocates” to monitor animal cruelty prosecutions under a bipartisan proposal that is moving through the Florida Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 on January 16 to approve SB 272 by Republican Jennifer Bradley, a Northwest Florida attorney.

Bradley stressed that the bill, a priority of the Animal Law Section, would not require a judge to appoint an animal advocate.

“This bill would ensure an informed process and provide essential resources to the judiciary,” Bradley told the committee.

The measure passed with little discussion and no debate. Two Animal Law Section representatives and a Humane Society of the U.S. lobbyist were in the committee room to signal their support.

Among other things, the measure would authorize judges in animal cruelty prosecutions to appoint a “separate advocate to represent the interests of justice.”

The court could appoint an advocate on its own motion or at the request of a party, but a judge’s decision to deny a request could not be appealed.

Modeled after guardians ad litem who represent the interests of abused and neglected children, the animal advocates would be permitted to monitor proceedings, attend hearings, review animal control records, and make recommendations to the court.

Lawyers, emeritus attorneys, or certified legal interns who volunteer to serve as animal advocates would have to receive special training and “have an interest in animal issues and the legal system,” according to the bill.

The measure would also require the Animal Law Section to maintain a registry of qualified volunteers.

SB 272 faces two more committee hearings before reaching the Senate floor.

Rep. Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring the companion, HB 297. It has yet to be heard.

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