On Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that would ratchet up protections for police and correctional dogs and horses.
SB 96, sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, would render targeting or killing a canine used in public safety functions a second-degree felony.
Those who target horses, meanwhile, would be subject to a third-degree felony charge.
The inspiration for the bill is a local tragedy last September. A suspect shot and killed Fang, a 3-year-old Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office K-9.
“This bill has been a rollercoaster of emotions,” Bean said. Executing police canines currently is a third-degree felony.
Bean noted that law enforcement animals’ lives are on the line. One K-9 cop was shot in Pinellas County just last week, he said.
Sen. Tom Wright, a Port Orange Republican, was a former police officer in Minnesota. He recounted stories of police dogs that proved indispensable.
“I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for those dogs,” Wright said. “They are officers. They just happen to have four legs.”
Legislation has protected federal agency police dogs since 2000. And other states have mulled similar legislation.
In 2018, Utah moved its own bill that, like Bean’s proposal, made killing a police dog a second-degree felony. South Carolina likewise moved to enhance penalties for these crimes. The United Kingdom, moreover, is exploring harsher penalties for these crimes.
The House companion (HB 67) is on the calendar.