Background: As of May 2023, thirty-nine states have laws commonly called “possession bans” to prohibit persons convicted of animal cruelty from owning companion animals for a fixed period of time. The most common length of time a person is prohibited from possessing animals after conviction is five years. Some states go so far as to prohibit offenders from working with or ever owning a companion animal again. In 2021, the Texas legislature passed an animal possession ban, but it was limited in scope compared to other states. The ban only covered the animals harmed in the offense and any other animals possessed by the offender at the time of the abuse. Additionally, the Texas ban only applied in cases where the offender was under community supervision (i.e., probation or jail). Once their sentence was served, there was no prohibition on offenders acquiring more animals.
HB 598 amends Chapter 42 of the Texas Penal Code by adding Section 42.107, which makes it a crime for a person previously convicted of animal cruelty to possess a non-livestock animal (i.e., companion animals such as a cat or a dog) for five years after conviction. HB 598 also enhances the penalty for repeat violations under Section 42.107 from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B. Decades of research show that violence inflicted on animals is the single greatest predictor that the offender will hurt people. HB 598 closes a significant gap in Texas law to prevent future violence by disrupting an offender’s access to animals for a significant, but not open-ended, period of time. The legislation was authored by Representative Matt Shaheen and sponsored by Senator John Whitmire and takes effect September 1, 2023.