A legislative mistake and a court’s decision has led to bestiality remaining legal in eight Northern Ohio counties.
How that came to be is a unique lawmaking story of unintended consequences. A Republican is now seeking to make bestiality, along with several other forms of animal cruelty, illegal across the board in Ohio.
The counties in question are Erie, Fulton, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams and Wood.
Up until 2017, Ohio was one of several states that had yet to formally criminalize sexual activity with animals. Legislators eventually did so — or tried to — by passing Senate Bill 331 which made bestiality illegal and ramped up existing penalties for animal fighting.
Those were not the only aspects of the bill, however. Lawmakers added in a number of amendments that were irrelevant to the subject of animals. The final bill included language dealing with “micro wireless facilities,” employment law and minimum wage standards. Specifically, it made it illegal for a municipality to enact a different minimum wage than the statewide rate.
This decision to include other topics into the bill proved controversial. Within months, a number of cities and counties filed legal challenges to the bill.
The Ohio Constitution mandates that “no bill shall contain more than one subject.” This is to prevent a legislator from inserting an unpopular amendment into an irrelevant bill so that the amendment does not have to be considered on its own.
A subsequent ruling from the Lucas County Common Pleas Court found that SB 331 did violate the one-subject rule.
The state appealed, but the 6th District Court of Appeals upheld the Lucas County ruling.
“We find beyond a reasonable doubt that blatant disunity exists in the subject-matter of S.B. 331,” the 6th District ruling concluded.
More importantly, the appellate court ruled that because SB 331 lacked a main subject, “the severance doctrine cannot operate to save any portion of it.”
In other words, the application (and enforcement) of SB 331 was thrown out — but only in the counties overseen by the 6th District Court of Appeals.
A new effort by State Rep. James Hoops, R-Napoleon, seeks to end that legal loophole and make bestiality and animal fighting illegal statewide.
House Bill 350 would re-enforce sexual activity with animals as being a second-degree misdemeanor. It would re-enforce animal fighting as being a felony and adds penalties for wagering, inviting children to watch or using what Hoops calls “injury-enhancing devices” such as a knife.
“Not only is bestiality abhorrent and cruel, often resulting in serious injury or the death of the animal, it is also a red flag for the likelihood of violence against individuals,” Hoops said in his sponsor testimony on Thursday, “because of its resemblance to human sexual assault in that it involves pain, coercion and lack of consent.
“It is critical that our animal cruelty statutes are consistent throughout the entire state in every county,” he concluded.