A state lawmaker interested in revamping how New Jersey enforces its animal welfare laws says legislation will be ready in a week and is likely to be passed before the term ends in early January.

The Senate Economic Growth Committee held a hearing for two and a half hours Monday about the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was subject of a scathing report in October from the State Commission of Investigation.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, said he thought portions of the SCI report were unnecessarily sensationalized but that “it’s obvious that the current system is not working as well as it should and that animal cruelty laws are not being enforced as well as they should.”

“I think there’s a role for the NJSPCA. We have to find out what that should be,” he said. “But most importantly, we have to bring county prosecutors involved in enforcing animal cruelty laws. I believe they’ll do a better job.”

“Certainly county organizations are absolutely necessary. There are some where they don’t even exist,” Lesniak said. “I think the county prosecutor has to be more actively involved in overseeing these operations because law enforcement belongs in a law enforcement agency, not in a private agency.”

Steve Shatkin, the NJSPCA president and deputy chief of law enforcement, said the SPCAs need to be helped, not abolished. He said the SCI report was incorrect.

“The NJSCPA is not a broken agency. It is not a haven for wannabe cops,” Shatkin said. “It is not an organization that lost sight of its core function, nor is it an agency that should be disbanded or stripped of the authority granted and reaffirmed by this Legislature.”

Shatkin said the Legislature created the SPCA in 1868 and that it doesn’t cost taxpayers any money. He said it responds to 5,000 animal cruelty complaints a year and has issued around 1,250 summonses since January 2015 – and that past studies of the issue show counties don’t want the assignment.

“Throughout these debates it was made clear that county and local law enforcement are unwilling to assume the functions currently held by the NJSPCA,” Shatkin said.

The Attorney General’s Office has also raised concerns about the SPCA. Shatkin said the organization recently agreed with the state Division of Consumer Affairs to have an outside monitor installed.

David Gaier said the NJSPCA should be disbanded. He was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie as one of three public members of the SPCA board but eventually resigned when he couldn’t obtain information about its operations even as a board member.

“I don’t think the organization as it’s constituted, depending on charitable donations for law enforcement, is remotely workable or is something that’s accountable to the people of New Jersey,” Gaier said.

Certified animal control officer Jeff Morton, who is also president of Shake a Paw Center for Rescue and Adoption in Union County, said the NJSPCA is necessary.

“Local police officers and municipals ACOs are not trained to handle complex cruelty cases,” Morton said.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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