AUSTIN – Yesterday’s House passage of HB 461 is a small but significant step toward removing disproportionate punishments from Texas law, according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“With more than 1,700 criminal offenses in state law, HB 461 presents a unique opportunity to roll back a unduly harsh penalty that could send honest farmers and ranchers to jail for not complying with costly, complicated, and unnecessary government regulations,” said Marc Levin, Director of the Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice.

HB 461 by House Agriculture & Livestock Committee Chairman Sid Miller repeals the criminal offense created last session for the “animal identification” program. Texas farmers and ranchers who fail to register their premises and animals with the government – and who fail to tag and report the movement of such animals to authorities – can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and jailed for up to 180 days.

The statute was enacted last session at the behest of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which had threatened to impose a mandatory animal identification program on Texans if the state did not do so. However, after a brushfire of opposition from small farmers and ranchers and complaints from several members of Congress, the U.S.D.A. withdrew its threats.

“Texas farmers and ranchers have flourished for centuries without government micromanagement and their property rights must be protected,” Levin continued. “We encourage the Senate to act quickly to repeal the criminal penalty and make animal identification voluntary.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin. The Center for Effective Justice has worked with legislators and key stakeholders on this issue as part of its project on overcriminalization, which addresses the trend towards expanding the scope of criminal law to cover non-traditional areas.

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