State lawmakers file bill to assign advocates for animals in Florida criminal cases

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Members of both parties of the Florida Legislature Monday filed bills for the 2024 legislative session that would appoint courtroom advocates in criminal proceedings for cats and dogs.

“As an animal lover, I’m pleased to sponsor legislation that allows an advocate to participate in proceeding regarding animal neglect or abuse,” said Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, in a press release.

“These advocates will ensure an informed process and, especially in cases of hoarding, provide helpful resources for the judicial process. I’m proud to support this legislation,” she included.

Adjoined to Bradley’s Senate bill, the legislation was co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Lindsey Cross, D-St. Petersburg. The bill specifies to designate a special attorney for criminal justice for dogs or cats involved in neglect or abuse.

According to the bill’s language, appointment of an attorney may be denied by a judge. The decision is also not subject to appeal.

“This bill is a smart and proactive step in protecting cats and dogs that have been subjected to abuse or neglect,” Cross said. “For many of us, our pets are family. However, there continue to be horrific instances of animal mistreatment and neglect in our state.”

While criminal penalties exist for children and victims, no legislation is currently classified for abuse against cats and dogs. In giving a “voice” to animals, a certified or volunteer attorney would monitor the case, aid in fact-finding, attend hearings, and make recommendations to the court.

“As a former prosecutor who has prosecuted animal cruelty cases, I strongly believe this legislation will provide prosecutors with the tools and assistance that they need to seek justice on these important cases,” Jacques said.

The lawmakers filed SB 272 and HB 297. If passed, the new law would take effect July 1, 2024.