KIYC: Lawmakers vote to strip NJSPCA of its authority

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TRENTON -

New Jersey lawmakers have passed a bill removing law enforcement authority from the New Jersey SPCA and sent it to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature. The bill, inspired by an ongoing Kane In Your Corner investigation into the troubled agency, passed the Assembly by a vote of 63-0 with four abstentions. It had previously passed the state Senate by a unanimous vote.

“I really am thrilled,” says Collene Wronko, head of Reformers NJ, which had led the fight to reform the NJSPCA. “It's been a long road, but these animals are finally going to get the justice they deserve.”

Linda Wilferth, of Happy Paws Rescue, adds, “I think I speak for a lot of the rescue groups when I said we needed someone on the animals' side, and we've got it now.”

The NJSPCA is a nonprofit company that has been empowered to enforce New Jersey’s animal control laws for 150 years. But a Kane In Your Corner investigation that began in the fall of 2016 exposed numerous issues, including no-bid contracts between the group and its board of directors and many animal cruelty cases that appeared to be sitting uninvestigated.

In October, the NJSPCA was also the subject of the scathing report from the NJ State Commission of investigation, which called the group “a haven for wannabe cops”, and recommended it be eliminated. 

The NJSCPA and its high-powered lobbying firm, MBI Gluckshaw, had been fighting to block the legislation, but may have hurt themselves with a strategy memo that was made public last week. As Kane In Your Corner reported, the memo instructed NJSPCA law enforcement officers to lobby Assembly members but to "use a different name and email.” It also said that “Nobody should call and say they are from the NJ SPCA."  

The NJSPCA later claimed the memo was inspired by some members’ concern about unspecified “future retaliation,” but the group’s critics were outraged. Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), who sponsored the bill along with Assemblyman Dan Benson (D – Hamilton), said the group “made the case for its own demise.”

If Gov. Christie signs the bill, as expected, the NJSPCA would be phased out over the next six months. Authority to investigate animal cruelty cases would shift to municipalities and county prosecutors.

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