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House Unanimously Approves ‘Watershed’ Bill Making Animal Cruelty a Federal Crime

Animals

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have found something they can agree on: The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to make animal cruelty a federal felony, CNN reported.


Most animal cruelty laws in the U.S. are currently state laws, The New York Times explained. Federal laws only prohibit animal fighting and the creation and selling of videos depicting animal cruelty, according to CNN. But the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or PACT Act, would criminalize the crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or sexual abuse of animals at the federal level. Perpetrators could face felony convictions, fines and prison terms of up to seven years.

The bill was introduced by a pair of aisle-crossing Florida Congressmen in January: Democrat Ted Deutch and Republican Vern Buchanan, CBS News reported.

"Today's vote is a significant milestone in the bipartisan quest to end animal abuse and protect our pets," Deutch said in a written statement reported by CBS News. "This bill sends a clear message that our society does not accept cruelty against animals. We've received support from so many Americans from across the country and across the political spectrum. Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice."

Animal welfare groups celebrated the bill's passage.

"The watershed vote takes us one step closer to a federal anti-cruelty statute that would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who commit such unspeakable crimes against innocent animals," Humane Society Legislative Fund President Sara Amundson and Humane Society Chief Executive Kitty Block wrote in a joint statement.

The bill now has to pass the Senate, but Buchanan told The New York Times he thought its chances were good.

"We are optimistic it will pass the Senate, which has already supported the bill in two previous sessions of Congress," he said.

The PACT Act builds on legislation signed by former President Barack Obama in 2010, which banned crush videos that showed animals being tortured. In some videos described by The New York Times, women were shown stepping on rabbits with spiked high heels.

But that legislation did not provide the federal government with the means of prosecuting wrongdoing that was not caught on camera, Amundson and Block explained.

"The PACT Act will remove that loophole by prohibiting these acts when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks, regardless of whether a video has been produced," they wrote. "It would also allow federal authorities to crack down on animal cruelty that affects interstate or foreign commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.