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Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore speak at a press conference about an animal cruelty case on April 21, 2017. In November 2019, Congress passed a bill that will make severe animal cruelty and torture a federal crime. File/Staff

A bill targeting animal crushing videos that has passed both chambers of Congress and is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump is earning praise from South Carolina authorities and animal welfare advocates.

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture, or PACT, Act expands a 2010 law that made creation or distribution of "animal crushing" videos illegal.

The measure would make the underlying acts of cruelty a federal crime. The Senate unanimously passed the bill Nov. 5, two weeks after the House passed it on a voice vote.

The PACT Act would prohibit extreme acts of cruelty when they occur in interstate commerce or on federal property and cracks down on the sexual abuse of animals. While current federal law bans the sale or distribution of videos showing animals being crushed, burned or tortured, it does not prohibit the underlying conduct.

As of Monday, Trump had not signed the bill.

Lance Crick, first assistant U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, said he could not comment on pending legislation but did say his office takes animal cruelty cases seriously and is always looking for legal means to effectively prosecute cases.

"I think we've been very progressive in this district over the years," Crick said. "Things may start as a drug investigation and we find other things, like dog fighting and mistreatment of animals. We make sure we exhaust every avenue to prosecute. We never turn a blind eye toward those kinds of activities."

The federal prosecutor said his agency works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement to help ensure animal abusers are brought to justice. They're always willing to collaborate to build successful cases, he said.

Joe Elmore, CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, said the law is something to be applauded but that it does little to address South Carolina's most pressing animal cruelty and neglect problems.

Elmore said that while animal crushing videos are heinous, they are not widespread and he has not heard of them being an issue in the Palmetto State.

"We applaud (the bill)," he said. "We're in support of it. However, I don't expect it to have as much impact as people think it will."

Although the bill makes the underlying acts in animal crushing videos a federal crime, those actions were already felony offenses in most states, including South Carolina, Elmore said.

On the state level, many animal cruelty crimes are pleaded down to lesser charges or cases dismissed altogether, he said.

"Most of these cases are weak and if the animal survives, it can't (be a) witness," Elmore said. "We see what we think would warrant felony convictions on a regular basis, but we rarely see them convicted on a felony level unless they’re facing other felonies."

The Animal Society CEO pointed to lack of training in animal cruelty investigations for law enforcement and animal control officers nationwide as a major issue.

"Our animal cruelty laws are pretty decent but we don’t have the folks enforcing those laws trained to the degree they should be," Elmore said. "They don't have the capacity to enforce those laws."

Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, a Mount Pleasant attorney who serves as South Carolina state director for the Humane Society of the United States, agrees with Elmore's assessment that while a good step, the federal bill will do little to directly impact animal cruelty in the Palmetto State.

"This really closes a loophole on some of the most egregious forms of animal abuse and torture," Gilmore-Futeral said. "I'm not aware of any cases here, but it also sets a wonderful stage. I think any bill dealing with animal welfare and protections could get a boost because it shows clear bipartisan support."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.