COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bill recently introduced in the Ohio Senate is seeking to increase the penalties for killing or showing "serious cruelty" towards pets.

Senate Bill 205—proposed by State Sens. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) and Sean O'Brien (D-Bazetta Township)—would apply to "companion animals," which are defined as any animal kept inside a home or any dog or cat regardless of where they are. It seeks to alter the Ohio Revised Code to make it a third-degree felony to either kill a pet or commit animal cruelty.

Sen. Hottinger tells 3News lawmakers have been working on this issue for years, and that those accused of "aiding and abetting" such crimes against animals will also be held accountable with fourth-degree felony charges. In addition, he cited a study that said 88% of children living in an abusive home also had a pet who was being abused. Therefore, he believes increasing the penalties against those who hurt animals can also help decrease other forms of violent crime.

"If you're doing something atrocious to an animal, chances are you're also doing something atrocious to your family members," Hottinger said

The legislation is getting bipartisan support, including from Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R) and Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D). It has not yet been referred to a committee, however.

The proposal comes just over a week after a man was arrested after allegedly setting a stray dog on fire in East Cleveland, causing the animal to be euthanized. Antonio Johnson has pleaded not guilty and is currently being held on $75,000 bond.

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Under current "Goddard's Law" (named after legendary Cleveland meteorologist Dick Goddard, Johnson can be charged with a fifth degree felony even though it is his first offense for being accused of causing "serious physical harm" to the dog. However, even though prison time of up to a year is possible, it isn't usually likely for current F-5 crimes due to recent state sentencing reform that Hottinger says has inadvertently undercut things like Goddard's Law. He and the Public Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Ohio referenced the case of Scott Winter, a Warren man who served just three months behind bars after pleading guilty to skinning a dog alive.

Under SB205, the language of the ORC will be altered to read, "No person shall knowingly cause serious physical injury to or needlessly kill a companion animal." Should the bill pass, animal crimes like the one in East Cleveland could be punishable by up to five years in prison.

You can read the entire bill below:

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