Animal rights activists that conduct violent acts against businesses and academic research institutions could soon face stiffer penalties. The United States Senate passed legislation (S. 3880) on 29 September 2006 that would authorize federal prosecution of animal rights activists charged with conducting acts of terrorism. The legislation, "The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act" (AETA), was introduced by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
Before final passage, Feinstein amended the legislation to remove a clause that would have made it a misdemeanor offense for "non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise." Non-violent picketing and demonstrations would still allowed under this bill.
S. 3880 would outlaw physically or economically damaging and intimidating any "animal enterprise" which includes "...a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, research, or testing; a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet store, breeder, furrier, circus, or rodeo, or other lawful competitive animal event; or any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences..." This measure is a more specific effort to protect "animal enterprises" than its predecessor, the "Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992" (AEPA). In March 2006, six animal rights' activists were found guilty under AEPA and are currently being sentenced. The new bill would broaden the offenses punishable to include property damage. It would provide varying sentences based on the extent of the crimes committed, and would also reduce punishment for violent crimes that result in death from a maximum sentence of the death penalty to life in prison.
Passing AETA was a priority for the fur industry, according to Fur Commission USA. The National Animal Interest Alliance also supports this legislation.
Not all sectors support the legislation, however. A witness at a House hearing on companion legislation, H.R. 4239, stated, "Property crimes are already punishable as so-called animal enterprise terrorism. This bill, though, further expands that sweeping category to include protests, boycotts, undercover investigations, whistle-blowing and non-violent disobedience. This bill criminalizes any activity...that causes economic damage defined as including the loss of profits. That's not terrorism, that's effective activism."
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